OCEAN CITY — In response to a request to accommodate the after-parties for the annual cheerleading conventions in the resort, the Mayor and Council approved on first reading an ordinance that would extend the hours of operation for the underage dry nightclub under certain circumstances.
Last week, Mayor Rick Meehan brought to the council’s attention a request from Epic Brands, which produces two large-scale cheerleading conventions in the resort each year at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, to extend the hours of operation at the H20 underage nightclub downtown.
Meehan explained for the past few years, Epic has hosted an after-party at H20 on Worcester Street following the competition, but because of the growth of the events and the length of time of the competitions, the after-party often has to close down before many of the participants can arrive.
Town code requires H20 and other underage dry nightclubs to close by 12:45 a.m., but Epic Brands has submitted a request to the town allowing H20 to be open until 1:45 a.m. on three specific dates during the offseason to accommodate the after-parties for the cheerleaders. In order to accommodate the request, town officials had to amend the code to allow for the extension of hours on a case-by-case basis.
On Monday, the Mayor and Council took up the issue of the code change, which is considered enabling legislation that will allow town officials to entertain requests for an extension of hours for underage clubs in the future. It’s important to note town officials were not considering the time extension specific to H20 on Monday but were merely considering the code amendment that will allow it to consider the request for H20 and similar requests in the future. The time extension request for H20 will come at a later date, if and only if the code amendment is passed on second reading.
Meehan said the request came from Epic Brands and not H20. However, H20 owner Robbie Rosenblitt, who was on hand on Monday, agreed the after-parties for the cheerleading conventions were often closed before many of the competitors had finished with events at the Convention Center.
“The last couple of years, the event has grown so much that many of the older cheerleaders aren’t finished in time to enjoy the after-party,” he said. “We’ve had a number of complaints from both participants and parents that there is just not enough time for them to get downtown and enjoy the parties. We’ve refunded ticket prices for those who can’t make it before the 12:45 a.m. closing time.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight pointed out the Epic Brands cheerleading events attract thousands of young people to the resort along with their parents and families, filling hotels and motels and restaurants during the offseason.
“This is a very special occasion,” she said. “We really value this group. I hope we can look at this in a positive manner and continue to invite them to enjoy the city and everything it has to offer.”
Rosenblitt pointed out H20 is only open for select dates prior to Memorial Day, the three dates for cheerleader after-parties among them. He said the underage club rarely stays open until 12:45 a.m. even during the height of summer.
“Of the 100 nights or so we’re open, there probably aren’t five nights we stay open until 12:45,” he said. “We have zero desire to be open beyond 12:45. We don’t even open on July 4. We see the crowds downtown and the strain on the police department and don’t even open that night. We do that voluntarily.”
Meehan reminded the council the amendment before them would only enable them to make a case-by-case decision on the Epic Brands request and similar requests in the future.
“We have to have confidence in our ability to review this on a case-by-case basis and make good decisions,” he said. “This is a one-time request. If there are problems and they come back next year, we don’t have to approve it.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas scoffed at the notion approval of the extension of hours for H20 was in any way connected to Epic Brands’ desire to return to the resort in the future.
“I don’t agree Epic Brands won’t come back to Ocean City if we don’t extend this one hour,” she said.
Meehan again reinforced the notion the amendment before the council would only allow the elected officials to entertain requests for the extension of hours.
“All we’re voting for is the ability to change,” he said. “It’s amazing to me sometimes how a simple request can become such a big issue. I don’t get this. Their parents and chaperones are bringing them down there for these events.”
The council ultimately approved the code amendment on first reading by a vote of 4-2, with Councilman Brett Ashley and Pillas opposed and Councilman Dennis Dare absent.