NEW FOR THURSDAY: Free Gas Promotion Proposed Again

OCEAN CITY – The topic of “free gas” has returned as discussions turn toward ways to encourage visitors to come to Ocean City with gas prices predicted to rise once again.

During discussions with tourism partners this week, Councilman Brent Ashley re-visited a concept to offer a gas promotion this summer to encourage visitors to Ocean City despite raising gas prices.

Last year Ashley introduced the concept, which was eventually rejected due to reasoning that it would create a negative image.

“All of the papers are full of predictions of gas prices up to $4 to $6 a gallon,” Ashley said as he asked Tourism Advisory Board Chair Melanie Pursel and Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones if they had any interest in addressing the rise of gas prices as summer approaches.

Pursel acknowledged the fact that a gas promotion was discussed last year but explained the reasoning in why it never went through.

“We didn’t want to bring attention to something that can be negative in our visitors’ eyes,” she said. “In light of the legislative session, and all of the new taxes and potential that there is a lot of other things that are coming at Marylanders … I think we can have that discussion and see if there is something that we can do.”

Ashley suggested having Ocean City’s tourism partners view a presentation created by the town’s advertising agency, MGH, last year of a gas promotion concept that was privately viewed by the Mayor and City Council at that time, and the council unanimously agreed.

Mayor Rick Meehan did not concur. He said the way to best overcome rising gas prices is to continue focusing on the promotion of Ocean City’s long list of free events and adding value to visitor’s stays in Ocean City.

I am opposed to having everyone look at that presentation by MGH because it is proprietary and if you don’t use it there is something about it that you can’t really let it out or it ruins the impact of what it maybe can be used for on something else,” Meehan said. “So I think first we ought to collectively decide if we are looking for a gas promotion and if we are not we should not go in that direction.”

Ashley argued that he did not see a problem in letting the tourism community view the presentation.

“I just think the fact is people still want to come,” the mayor said.  “Let’s give them more of a reason to come and let’s be positive.”

In May of last year, the council voted 4-3 to approve the allocation of $100,000 from the town’s advertisement budget for a free gas giveaway promotion.

During a June closed session, MGH presented the Mayor and City Council with its concept but it was short lived as a new motion was placed by Councilwoman Mary Knight to change the town’s role in the gas giveaway.

Once the presentation was completed, the concept hit a dead end as the council voted it down.

“During closed session, there was a discussion on the gas promotion and a presentation made by MGH,” Joe Hall said at that time. “During that presentation, it was very exciting but in the end there was a motion and a vote made to alter what the perceived initial direction was given by the council for the town to actually give free gas away.”

Following the council’s decision to go against a gas promotion, Councilman Brent Ashley decided to use a portion of his City Council salary as well as financial assistance from supporting local businesses to carry on the free gas giveaway promotion.