Council Views Air Show Funds As Wise Investment

OCEAN CITY – Spectacular?  Yes.  Amazing? Absolutely.  Profitable? Not quite yet.

The 2009 Ocean City Air Show has been described as many things in the seven weeks since the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds roared over the resort’s coastline, glamorously headlining what was deemed to be a landmark event for the town of Ocean City, but it seems, after the final numbers were released this week by event promoter Brian Lilley, the town has found itself in the “red” on its initial investment.

Still, town officials seemed to slough off the numbers and look to the future, penning in dates for next year, tentatively scheduled for June 5-6, 2010, at Tuesday’s City Council work session, while Lilley’s team has already started the preparation of next year’s headliner act.

Despite bringing in more than a quarter of a million people to Ocean City on an otherwise droll weekend in June and mustering up huge numbers for downtown merchants in the resort’s business community, the town of Ocean City lost a substantial amount of the $50,000 in apparent “seed” money given to the event.

Special Events Director John Sullivan and Lilley presented the final numbers that were essentially the only real setback in an otherwise pristine event for the resort, outlining the town’s recoup of $14,789.37 from the show.

“We really need to look at the big picture as all of these are costs of doing business, and we had a quarter of a million people in town, and it brought in millions of dollars into our local economy,” said Councilman Doug Cymek. “It’s an improvement and I’d like to see [the air show] continue for many years to come.”

According to several people in high rank in the town of Ocean City, including City Solicitor Guy Ayres, the town actually got some of its initial investment back this year, which is an improvement from last year, as Ayres said, “I’m pretty sure that the town got nothing back last year.”

Mayor Rick Meehan praised Lilley’s work and commitment to making sure that the air show, in just its second year, was the best it could be.

“This was a fantastic event, and its become a signature event for the town of Ocean City, and all I’ve heard is people asking me and wanting to make sure that this event is going to be coming back next year,” said Meehan.

Lilley reported that the event brought in over $168,000 in revenue, and minus the expenses for the show, totaling just over $128,000, the real profit from the show was $39,390. When split between the promoter and the town, as per the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which calls for a 50-50 split, the town’s take ended up being the aforementioned number just under $15,000. Town Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said that another factor was that the town only technically put in $45,094.23 towards the event as $4,905.77 was returned to the town in non-usage of fuel and smoke oil during the event on Saturday, which was largely postponed due to inclement weather.

Either way, the town ended up losing about $30,000 of their initial investment, and it’s been reported that Lilley’s company “hasn’t turned a profit either year,” according to a source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Although the town and Lilley have a seemingly strong working relationship, Cymek requested for the town’s internal auditor to “have a look at the numbers to ensure that there is total transparency in our partnership.”

Meehan noted that the slight loss in investment was not seen as a loss for the business community.

“I don’t know where we could have spent this money and gotten an event of this magnitude in return,” said Meehan. “It crosses all lines and all age groups, in a time where patriotism is very important. It was a very patriotic event. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the town when the Thunderbirds flew over with ‘God Bless America’ playing over the loudspeakers.”

Sullivan also noted that the town incurred “in-kind” services expenses of about $70,000, a point to which Councilman Joe Hall took umbrage with, calling the number a “real cost that should be figured in.”

“The city chooses to do events like Springfest, Sunfest and the Air Show, so that becomes the individual’s job because that’s what you wanted him to do for that particular day,” said Sullivan. “It’s city employees already being paid to do a job for the city, but we are asking them to do something in addition to that.”

It should also be noted that of that $70,000 in estimated “in kind services”, only $15,743 was in overtime.

Despite the numbers, Lilley said that the performers were blown away by the town’s hospitality and charm.

“The universal feedback I’ve received from the military teams, including the Thunderbirds, is that this is one of the best shows they’ve ever done,” said Lilley. “I actually got a text message from the Thunderbird captain the other day, saying ‘we need another OC this year.’”