OCEAN CITY – The Movies on the Beach proposal found few supporters this week as several town officials gathered at the monthly Recreation and Parks meeting to weigh in on the proposal.
The police department, the beach patrol, public works, the City Council, and the Recreation and Parks Department were all represented at Tuesday’s meeting. The council had requested that all the key players gather to discuss the logistics of the Movies on the Beach proposal.
Last month, Rob Herting of Sunset Cinemas, Inc., came before the Mayor and Council in an attempt to sell the Sunset Cinema Movies on the Beach idea for the 2008 summer season. Herting explained to the Mayor and Council that Movies on the Beach provides a showing of first-run movies on the beach, on a nightly basis throughout the summer. The movies are projected on a 52-foot, inflatable, drive-in size movie screen with Dolby Digital surround sound. The idea essentially is to bring back the charm of the drive-in movie theatre but in the form of a “walk-in”, beach theater. Herting also told the Mayor and Council that Movies on the Beach was in its third season in Wildwood, N.J. and had been met with great success.
Although the Mayor and Council showed support for the idea in theory, they were cautious to put their full support behind the proposal without first examining the logistics and letting other town officials review the proposal. As a result, a gathering ensued on Tuesday morning to look further into the proposal and decide whether it would fit Ocean City as it had fit Wildwood.
Councilman Jim Hall voiced concerns that the project would become too cumbersome.
“It’s a project like Sunfest, only it’s twice a week,” he said, adding that it could end up being more work than anticipated.
City Engineer Terry McGean agreed that the project would only be plausible if it was easily set up.
“My concern is that it has to be something that can be put up and taken down easily,” he said.
McGean noted that if the screen could be easily taken off of the beach within an hour, the city should have no problems with the Department of Natural Resources.
Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster pointed out the potential competition that it could bring to the boardwalk merchants. Herting is proposing that he sell beverages, candy and food, but maintains that he will allow people to bring outside food with them as well. Shuster said that although outside food would be allowed, he was sure the Boardwalk merchants would not be happy with the outside competition being placed essentially in their backyard.
Bruce Gibbs, superintendent of Public Works Maintenance, weighed in with several concerns. Gibbs pointed out that the proposed location at the Inlet would not be possible for several reasons. First, the noise generated by the pier and by the Boardwalk would make it impossible for people to hear the movie. Second, the Inlet parking lot is already at maximum capacity on busy nights and weekends, leaving no additional space for the trailer, equipment and so on. Third, Gibbs noted that the wind could become quite strong in that area.
Gibbs also pointed out that the movies could interfere with other events on the beach, such as the lifeguard activities and competitions that occur after hours, and the Play It Safe events held in June.
Maintenance was also addressed by Gibbs, who asked who would be responsible for setting up and taking down the movie screen. He pointed out the increase in trash on the beach that would inevitably be left.
“To me this is just another project on the beach, and do we really need it,” Gibbs said.
Captain Kevin Kirstein spoke on behalf of the Ocean City Police Department. Kirstein questioned whether the security that Herting says will be provided would be enough. He also questioned how they would control people wandering by and watching the movie without paying admission. It was concluded that sand fencing would be required to control admission which would add to the list of items to be set up. Kirstein concluded that it sounded like a lot of manpower that the city would inevitably have to provide.
From the point of view of the beach patrol it was noted that the equipment left on the beach could become dangerous during the day if a storm came and blew items down the beach towards beachgoers.
“We could commercialize the beach to the high heavens,” City Manager Dennis Dare said, noting the numerous requests for beach commercialization that he receives each year. Dare did point out though that special events in Ocean City do draw large crowds.
Despite the potential draw of another special event, the overall consensus was that at this point the proposal seemed too cumbersome. Although there have been no problems in Wildwood, several people pointed out that Wildwood has a much larger beach than Ocean City, which makes the logistics easier for that location.
“I feel like we have enough on our plate right now,” Hall said.
All in attendance agreed the city would not move in any direction on the proposal until they gathered more information.
“It just looks like something that right now we don’t want to tackle,” Hall said.