OCEAN CITY – The retail carts and several special events will not be returning to Somerset Street for the 2008 season.
At a regular session of the Mayor and City Council Monday night, Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) President Greg Shockley and Executive Director Glenn Irwin presented the OCDC’s recommendation on the retail carts that caused contention on the street this past summer.
“The OCDC believes the retail cart program has merit, but since it generated concerns from the existing businesses during the 2007 summer it should not be continued. The OCDC believes the tenant mix of the existing businesses along Somerset Plaza is not conducive to the retail cart program at this time,” wrote Shockley in a letter to the Mayor and Council.
The retail carts left several business owners along Somerset Street disgruntled this past summer, particularly Al Wendling of Pop’s Joke Shop. Wendling came before the Mayor and Council as well as the OCDC several times throughout the summer to plead his case that the carts along Somerset Street were hurting, not helping, the businesses along the street. The City Council voted to table the issue until the end of the season and to allow the OCDC to review the program at that time
Shockley explained to the Mayor and Council on Monday night that the OCDC reviewed the retail cart situation as well as the live entertainment at its Annual Board Retreat three weeks ago. After lengthy discussion and review, OCDC officials agreed to discontinue the cart program and a majority of the live entertainment that has been a staple of Somerset Plaza for the past two years.
“We believe the current business mix is not right to take full advantage of this attractive and important pedestrian link. Until such time, the OCDC will take a limited role on the Plaza and redirect our energies to other redevelopment projects,” Shockley said.
Shockley added Monday night that the events and the carts were also putting a drain on the staff and becoming too cumbersome.
Irwin noted that the goal had always been to bring more pedestrian traffic to Somerset Street and ultimately to the downtown area.
“The Free Music Thursdays program and OC Cruzer Cars have grown in popularity with each summer season. However, since several of the store owners don’t believe the increasing attendance at these events directly benefits their business interests, the OCDC recommends the music venues be moved to Sunset Park,” said Shockley in his letter.
Shockley added Monday that the crab cook-off, a popular downtown event, would remain for at least one more year at Somerset Street.
Shockley, the owner of Shenanigan’s on the Boardwalk, also added that the Cruzers would need to decide whether to continue using Somerset Plaza in the future but would need to provide their own liability insurance and would now be responsible to pay for the city permits.
As for the rest of the events, Sunset Park will now be available as the main downtown venue.
Shockley maintained that OCDC is by no means abandoning their original goal of bringing more traffic to the downtown area, explaining that the availability of Sunset Park has allowed them to move the nucleus of downtown entertainment from Somerset Plaza to Sunset Park.
“At this point we see Sunset Park as a natural progression of this entertainment and attraction,” he said.
Councilman Jay Hancock questioned whether the OCDC would keep working to enhance the Somerset Street area, asking whether it would “continue to try to upgrade, enhance, broaden, the business mix down there to try to vitalize that area even more.”
Shockley explained that both the OCDC and the town have a vested interest in the success of Somerset Street and the downtown area.
“We aren’t running away from it … by no means are we done with Somerset Street or anywhere downtown,” Shockley said
In his letter to the Mayor and Council, Shockley emphasized OCDC’s decision did not reflect a failure along the street.
“Overall, the OCDC believes Somerset Plaza has been successful in its primary goal of attracting people. We believe this street segment has become the most popular east/west corridor for pedestrians in downtown Ocean City,” wrote Shockley.