OCEAN CITY — A request this week for a special event permit for the opening ceremonies of the USSSA Softball World Series opening ceremony on the beach at the Inlet in July touched off a debate about the amount of parking revenue the resort would lose to accommodate it.
On Monday, the Mayor and Council approved a variety of upcoming special events on their consent agenda, including the opening ceremony of the USSSA World Series at the Inlet in July, but not before an interesting debate about conceding a large area of the Inlet parking lot for roughly two to three hours in the height of the summer season.
The USSSA World Series, held in Wicomico County, last year attracted roughly 1,500 athletes on teams from all over the region and the opening ceremony was held on the beach at the Inlet.
Hundreds of athletes and their families lined the pier and filled the beach in the Inlet area for the opening ceremony, which included a parade, opening speeches, a DJ and other activities. The USSSA World Series is just one of many events on which the town of Ocean City and Wicomico County are collaborating in one of the first sports marketing partnerships of its kind in the nation.
In a partnership formalized just last week, Ocean City and Wicomico launched the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance. The intent is to leverage Wicomico’s vast sports venues with the thousands of hotel rooms and other accommodations in Ocean City to attract, retain and build sports marketing events while creating economic impact for both jurisdictions.
The USSSA World Series opening ceremony, set for Monday, July 28, is one of the first examples of the new partnership. It was originally tapped for the evening hours, but was moved back to the late afternoon after a request from the Ocean City Beach Patrol, which raised concerns about hundreds of visitors in and around the beach at a time when the lifeguards were not on duty. With that concern eased, however, Ocean City Councilman Brent Ashley this week raised the issue of the estimated revenue lost from the Inlet parking lot to accommodate the event. The opening ceremonies would require cordoning off the first two rows of parking, roughly 115 spaces, during the event.
According to estimates, losing those two rows of parking during the event would cost the resort roughly $4,400 in parking revenue.
“It looks like we’re going to give up $4,400 in Inlet parking lot revenue and it doesn’t make sense to me,” said Ashley. “I can’t see giving up revenue when we’re metering lots and trying to save every penny we can on parking revenue.”
Special Events Coordinator Lisa Mitchell told the council the town could certainly work with the event organizers to lessen the timeframe or other changes, but minimized the impact of the opening ceremonies.
“It’s a Monday afternoon and typically not a very busy time,” said Special Events Coordinator Lisa Mitchell. “We can certainly review it and see if we can cut down the time a little. They’re going to need about two to three hours from the opening until cleanup.”
However, some on the council said concerns over the lost parking revenue were somewhat short-sighted considering the overall economic impact of the event.
“I think we need to look at the big picture,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “We just signed an agreement with Wicomico and this is a big part of that. This event was a huge success last year.”
Dare said the roughly $4,400 loss in potential parking revenue would likely be overshadowed by the overall economic impact of the event on the resort.
“The fact is, it’s starting on a Monday and this is the type of mid-week tourism we’re looking for,” said Dare. “There are a lot of folks coming to Ocean City for this event and that’s a lot of hotel rooms booked. There will be 1,500 athletes and their families at this event and they are going to stay after and enjoy the Boardwalk and all Ocean City has to offer.”
Ashley did not dispute the overall economic benefit, but continued it would be imprudent not to at least examine the lost parking revenue at a time when town officials are exploring an expansion of paid parking.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great event,” he said. “I know we have a partnership with Wicomico, but we also have a partnership with the taxpayers.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the USSSA World Series opening ceremony was exactly the type of tourism the town is hoping to attract.
“I agree with the big picture,” he said. “We have been working hard to bring these events to Ocean City and this is clean tourism. This is the best we can hope for. This is the type of event we want to bring to Ocean City. The money and revenue derived from this event will more than make up for and far exceed any revenue lost from parking for a few hours on a Monday.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas echoed the mayor’s sentiment, but agreed the lost revenue needed at least some consideration.
“I’m glad you’re here and I want to support this event, but we have to keep an eye on revenue,” she said. “We have to do what we can to minimize any revenue lost.”
After considerable debate, the council voted to approve the special event with the understanding organizers would at least explore reducing the hours or minimizing the impact.