It’s official — autumn has become automotive season in Ocean City. There is nothing new to that. It’s been this way for some time, but the growth of the events or at least the audience they attract could have locals feeling burnt out come mid-October and businesses thankful for them.
I personally like these auto events for the most part because they are economic engines for the resort and surrounding areas. For instance, the middle week in September is now a major one for Ocean City because of bike week events. Fifteen years ago, that was not the case. It was literally much quieter but nearly every business in the area would say it’s one of the best weeks of the year for them now. This year OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week will fall on Sept. 17-20.
The next weekend is Sunfest. The last weekend in September is typically known as the VW/Audi weekend, or H2O International, but this year the promoter understood he needed to move the event back a week to the first weekend in October so it does not coincide with Sunfest. In fact, he said this week the first weekend in October will be its permanent home on the calendar.
The following week will be Cruisin’, and I am interested to see if there are any ramifications from the convergence of these diverse groups. Merging the punks with the foreign-owned cars still in town from the H2Oi weekend with the classic cars of Cruisin’ has the potential to be a nightmare. At a minimum, it will keep law enforcement scrambling and likely lead to huge increases in violations and overtime costs for the city. Next up after Cruisin’ in October is the typically tame corvette weekend.
Are four significant crowd-generating events rooted in wheels within a five-week stretch too much? It will most likely depend on who you ask. Residents with little stake in tourism will almost assuredly say yes because of the traveling inconveniences and the “takeover” feeling associated with these large event crowds, while businesses and service industry workers will disagree, crediting them with for ending the season on a strong note.
It seems absurd to even be thinking about another multi-million dollar expansion at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what Ocean City officials are doing, as the Mayor and Council agreed this week to move forward with a request to the Maryland Stadium Authority to share in the cost of a feasibility study to expand the main exhibit hall.
From a planning perspective, it makes sense to get the ball rolling early with the paperwork part of the process, which will include market analysis and research as well as interviews with current conventions to determine whether an expansion is needed.
If the study comes back favorable, as most do, Ocean City could be breaking ground on another expansion within three years. That’s not long at all and seems ridiculous when considering the ribbon was just caught this winter on the new performing arts center, which by all accounts is a beautiful facility but has in no way proven to be a success on any level as far as an economic engine and being able to host events of note. There’s optimism about it being a major player for the commercial sector, but in no way has that been proven as fact. It’s just too early to tell if it will meet expectations over the long run. I believe it will be, but more than likely it will be five years before any sort of rational conclusion can be made on the facility’s prosperity.
The fact some conventions want extra exhibit space is good to know and valuable information, but is that demand enough to merit more millions of dollars being spent at the facility in such a seasonal town. I hope my early inclinations are wrong on this prospect.
This discussion will largely come down to whether the city is in jeopardy of losing the business of the Maryland Municipal League and the cheerleading events, for example, if it doesn’t expand the convention center. If that’s the case, this phase should have leapfrogged the performing arts facility in priority. The performing arts center will surely provide some help to some of these events as far as space, but if it’s strictly large volumes of open floor that’s desperately needed then a mistake in judgment was made along the way.
This week’s discussion involving the Ocean City Fire Department’s headquarters project was disturbing on several fronts.
First, there needs to be something concrete put forward on possible health issues being caused by poor ventilation at the building. If that’s truly the case, improvements need to be made today.
Secondly, there was the discourse over the water tower being removed earlier than expected and whether that merits a new design for renovating the headquarters on 15th Street or if building a new standalone facility adjacent to the current one would be suitable.
Ocean City can address the fire department’s concerns with the headquarters on 15th Street through a renovation. Razing the structure and building a new building on the site would be an abuse of the public’s trust, particularly considering a new station was just built in north Ocean City and an argument could be made the mid-town station merits more attention in the first place.
It was nice to see several elected officials balk at the change of direction this week and the fact more than $100,000 could be wasted in design fees if a new direction is selected. I hope that skeptical approach pervades when the topic returns for further discussion in a few months.