Resort Tourism Industry Structure Debate Resurfaces

OCEAN CITY – The North Ocean City Business Alliance meeting last week became chaotic when it turned into a blame game of who is at fault for a state of confusion across the tourism industry in town.

The conversation turned sour over the $300,000 that the Mayor and City Council allocated to the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) to market and promote events for Ocean City.

TAB was formed following the 2010 elections when the newly formed majority of the council voted to dissolve the Tourism Commission, along with other sub-commissions of the city government. The reasoning was that all city business should be conducted in public and in city chambers in front of the entire council versus the few elected officials that were assigned to sit on the commissions.

Last August, the Mayor and City Council approved TAB to spend $25,000 to expand and market Harbor Day on the Docks in West Ocean City as s two-day seafood festival.

In February, the Mayor and City Council approved most of the remainder of the board’s allocation to fund a summer family entertainment series organized by Bob Rothermel. The events include weekly fireworks and laser light shows downtown on the beach.

Last month, alliance member and managing partner of the Carousel Hotel, Michael James, came before the Mayor and City Council to request the city’s support of special events in the northern end of town.

At that time, James expressed that to the northern business owners’ dismay none of the funds allocated to TAB were dedicated to events to be held in north Ocean City.

The council then voted to earmark $22,000, which was the money saved within the Fourth of July fireworks budget, for the alliance to develop special events to be held in north Ocean City.

“This is why we formed this alliance because once we found out our grand city gave $300,000 to TAB, which is strictly for tourism, and then everything is done south of 27th Street,” alliance member and North Greene Turtle owner Steve Pappas said.

Councilman Joe Hall interjected that the events funded by the board’s allocation were brought before the Mayor and City Council as a recommendation made by TAB, which is supposed to represent the entire business community, including north Ocean City.

“The only assumption that the council and my colleagues made was that they had communicated with the stakeholders of the town … TAB was to have you in the loop,” he said.

At this point, James reiterated an opinion he had originally brought forward when he was before the Mayor and City Council, to re-establish the Tourism Commission.

Joe Hall argued that the tourism dollars are generated through room tax and that all business associated with that tax revenue needed to be held in public for the taxpayers to see and give input on when necessary. He added that the make-up of TAB should include a stakeholder from each industry within the town — hotel, motel, restaurant, retail, entertainment and amusement.

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and TAB Chair Melanie Pursel explained that when TAB was formed it was decided to have three members of the Chamber of Commerce and Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA), as well as the Economic Development Committee chairman (James), serve on the board.

She furthered that a Memorandum of Understanding is being formed between TAB and the city, which will outline the process of applying the board’s funds and expanding the board to encompass all of the industries Joe Hall had listed to become up to a 15-member board.

“What the problem with TAB is … there is no representation of elected officials on that board,” Councilman Doug Cymek said. “If four council members can be sitting in this room today and talk why can’t they do it on that board.”

Joe Hall held his ground and said that Council President Jim Hall has stated in the past that he is willing to schedule on a council agenda the alliance, as TAB does, any time they need to discuss business.

Pappas responded that it is unrealistic to accomplish anything in a monthly meeting with the council has other agenda items to discuss as well.

“Do you see how long this meeting has taken right now?,” Pappas said at 11 a.m. “We have been here since 8 o’clock and we still have 10 other things to discuss but we can’t because we just don’t have time.”

As the argument came to close, Joe Hall asked the room to keep one thing in mind.

“Understand the one thing that is guaranteed about government and government involvement is it is highly inefficient … that is just a fact,” he said.

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