NEW FOR THURSDAY: Winterfest Of Lights Enjoys ‘Second Best Year Ever’; More New Year’s Eve Fireworks Possible

OCEAN CITY – A near record-setting year of attendance at Ocean City’s Winterfest of Lights ended with a bang to bring in the new year, and because the inaugural New Years’ Eve fireworks show was such a success, the city will be looking to have it again next year.

The 20th Annual Winterfest of Lights at Northside Park kicked off on Nov. 15 this year and as of its conclusion on Tuesday, Jan. 1, there were 95,599 attendees, ranking the year of 2012 with the second highest attendance in the event’s 20-year history.

Last year, thanks to mild and dry weather, Winterfest broke records with 107,405 attendees and total revenue of over $500,000. This year’s preliminary revenue, as the department waits for a final report of ticket sales conducted at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, is approximately $502,000.

“Last year was the best year ever and this year was the second best year ever, so we are obviously riding a wave in heightened awareness and interest in Winterfest. We are very happy with the numbers,” Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster said.

Last year and this year’s record breaking numbers were due to unusually warm weather during the holiday season. Shuster reported Winterfest had to close early only one day this year because of rain and wind.

According to Shuster, the department records temperatures during the course of the event and this year’s average temperature was 10 degrees lower than last year. This year’s average temperature was 40.1 degrees compared to last year’s average of 50.3 degrees.

“I believe weather and temperature does have an impact on people’s willingness to come out and ride the train in the winter,” Shuster said. “We are still pleased over the turnout we had and the overall event was pretty good.”

On New Year’s Eve this year, as Winterfest of Lights season came to a close, Ocean City hosted for the first time at Northside Park a fireworks show to bring in the new year. The night included live entertainment, warm hot chocolate and the opportunity to ride the Winterfest of Lights tram. The hours for Winterfest were extended until midnight to allow visitors to travel through the winter wonderland of lights and then listen to music by DJ Kutt.

Shuster explained that because this year was the 20th anniversary of Winterfest of Lights the Recreation and Parks Department had budgeted for a fireworks display not knowing when the show would actually occur.

“When we talked about doing this, we had different ideas of when the fireworks should be,” he said. “One thought was to do the fireworks on opening night when we have a big crowd of people here to light the tree. The other alternative was to do the fireworks at the end of the season on New Year’s Eve, and basically we were in favor of doing it on New Year’s Eve, and the mayor was a strong supporter of doing it on New Year’s Eve.”

Now that the 20th Annual Winterfest of Lights celebration has come and gone, it is in question of whether the fireworks will return next year as the final word will be made by the Mayor and City Council during budget time.

“We had such a good turnout, and a lot of positive comments were made … it will be up to the council to fund it, but we are going to put an allocation of $10,000 for fireworks on New Year’s Eve,” Shuster said.

Attendance for the New Year’s show is hard to judge with people coming out of the woodworks to watch the fireworks, between those present on Winterfest grounds, to those standing on the surrounding streets, or parked in their cars in the immediate area, Shuster guessed 1,000 to 2,000 people watched the fireworks display.

A countdown from 10 was held to midnight at which point the fireworks began to go off for a show that lasted at least eight minutes with accompanying music.

“It was very positively received,” Shuster said. “A lot of families, young and older people, people with kids, people on their own, and people in groups that all seemed to enjoy themselves.”

Council President Lloyd Martin was present for the fireworks show on New Year’s Eve at Northside Park and was pleased with the number of spectators in attendance.

“It was very well attended,” Martin said. “There were plenty of oh’s and ah’s. It was a little under 10 minutes long which was perfect because it was cold outside.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight reported on the abundance of positive feedback she had received over the event at the Mayor’s Open House the next day. She pointed out how the event benefited the businesses on the northern end of town that night.

“People were getting rooms that night so they could have more of an experience to go out and see the fireworks,” she said. “I honestly could see it expanding because it was such a success.”