Photo by Allen Sklar
OCEAN CITY – Thousands of visitors chose to take advantage of Ocean City’s new option to pay a $50 flat-fee upon entering the Inlet Parking Lot on the 4th of July as they spent the day on the beach and Boardwalk and watched an illuminating fireworks show at the end of the night.
New this year the Mayor and City Council voted to charge a $50 flat-fee for all day parking in the Inlet Parking Lot on 4th of July. The fee was good for one entry, and allowed visitors to come as early as 5 a.m. and stay as late as midnight, without being charged an hourly parking rate.
The decision received backlash from the public once it was announced on social media days prior to the holiday accusing town officials for voting in favor of the flat-fee simply to increase revenue. However, the town responded the $50 flat-fee was chosen based on convenience.
At 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 4, the line to enter the Inlet parking lot wrapped around Baltimore Ave. and near Philadelphia Ave.
By charging the flat-rate at the Inlet Parking Lot upon entering, the city believed it would help decrease the traffic back-up when motorists went to leave the lot without having to wait in line to pay an hourly rate when exiting. City officials added, the Inlet Parking Lot would serve as an option for families who plan to spend the entire day on the beach and stay for the fireworks at night without having to worry about paying the meter.
At 11:30 p.m., more than 90 minutes after the fireworks had ended, there were still major traffic backups on Baltimore Ave. as the lot emptied after the fireworks. Philadelphia Ave. was also backed up.
Despite complaints over the $50 flat-fee, it was a hectic morning on the 4th of July at the Inlet Parking Lot, which was filled to capacity with 1,200 vehicles and closed to incoming motorists by 11:15 a.m.
Mayor Rick Meehan was on the scene from 9 a.m. until the lot closed. He observed those who chose to park in the Inlet Lot were mostly families, and there were only a couple of vehicles that chose to turn around once realizing a flat-rate of $50 was being charged.
“I was watching and listening to the attendants as they were checking everybody in. People were smiling, and they were happy to be there,” the mayor said. “There were a lot of families with their umbrellas and coolers, and they were heading down to the beach to enjoy their day.”
Meehan furthered city officials were surprised there were at least 200 to 300 vehicles that had left the parking lot by the time the fireworks went off at 9:30 p.m. While the town learned the method to charge motorists as they enter the lot did in fact relieve traffic upon exiting, they also learned the lot would benefit from having staff keep a close eye on the amount of parking spaces that become available throughout the day with the possibility to re-open the lot at a specified time and charge a lower price upon entry.
“It was positive,” the mayor said. “The revenue [approximately $60,000] far exceeded what we took in last year. What was unanticipated was that some people left, but that was the learning experience, and we can make the adjustment to correct that next year.”
As far as keeping with the $50 flat-fee in years to come, the mayor said that is ultimately the City Council’s decision.
“I hope that they do … it really worked well,” Meehan said. “We have the prime space, and I think people want to be in that prime space where they are right there, they can walk right out onto the beach, there are restrooms in the area and they have that fabulous Boardwalk to visit for food and entertainment. That is where they want to be and they now they have that option to pay $50 to be there all day and through the fireworks. I did not hear any complaints.”
All in all Meehan was thoroughly impressed with masses of people in the downtown area this 4th of July who stayed to watch the spectacular fireworks display.
“The good news is there were thousands of people downtown to watch the fireworks. The crowd downtown was just huge. It was as many people as I have ever seen,” he said. “I thought the fireworks were terrific … you can always get a gauge by the round of applause and cheers from the crowd, and everybody was clapping and cheering at the end of the fireworks.”
With traffic backups through the holiday weekend, nearly all hotels sporting no vacancy signs and restaurants reporting at least one-hour dinner waits up and down the island, the initial thoughts were the crowds were up over last year. According to demoflush population estimates, that was not the case.
Last year on the 4th of July, according to demoflush, there were 331,909 people calculated to be in Ocean City. This year the estimate was a slight increase to 332,214.
For the week of July 1-7, the weekly average was 298,711 this year, 6-percent less than last year’s average.
For the 4th of July weekend alone, the weekend average this year was 322,558, down 2.3 percent from last year.