Street Performer Rotation Not Favored For Boardwalk; Task Force To Create Report For Council

Street Performer Rotation Not Favored For Boardwalk; Task Force To Create Report For Council

OCEAN CITY – It was the consensus among the Boardwalk Task Force and street performers that the much recommended implementation of a lottery or rotation of performers on the Boardwalk will not work.

On Wednesday, the Boardwalk Task Force held its second and final public hearing gathering public input regarding the proliferation and issues associated with street performers on the Boardwalk. The task force consists of Chair Greg Shockley, owner of Shenanigan’s on the Boardwalk and Ocean City Development Corporation board member; Frank Knight, representing the Boardwalk Development Committee; Lee Gerachis, owner of Malibu’s Surf Shop on the Boardwalk; Bob Rothermel, representing the Downtown Association; and street performer Mark Chase. City Manager David Recor and Ocean City Police Lt. Mark Pacini are the city’s liaisons on the task force.

The previous public hearing resulted in the majority of speakers suggesting the town implement a lottery or a rotation schedule for the street performers.

Speaking at this week’s hearing, Todd Ferrante, owner of Park Place Jewelers on the Boardwalk, agreed with the concept of a street performer lottery/rotation.

“… Everybody is congested into one area, so I would like to see them rotate locations so that everybody has the equal opportunity to be in a certain location at a certain time. That would alleviate a lot of congestion on the Boardwalk in the downtown area,” he said. “It would seem that every street performer could live within a certain amount of space, and not take up a space that makes it impassable for people who are vacationing, visiting or live here to walk along the Boardwalk.”

Jackie Ball of Conners Beach Café on the Boardwalk made several recommendations in enhancing safety on the Boardwalk in regards to street performers.

“I believe all performers should be required to apply for a permit with the city and have to provide proof of identification with a photo on a driver’s license or passport. This would be displayed on the performer,” she said. “Why should we wait for a tragedy to occur before we require this? Any pedophile or criminal could perform without any screening at this point.”

Performers and their equipment should not block or obstruct safe movement of pedestrians and their equipment should be able to be moved in less than three minutes, Ball stated.

“Performers should be required to have insurance. Who is held liable if someone is injured by one of the performers? As a business owner, I have to have all of the necessary insurance to cover myself,” she said. “There is insurance currently available to performers for a reasonable amount of money, about $200 a year.”

Ball furthered entertainment should be appropriate for all ages, using the pole dancer who performed on the Boardwalk last summer as an example.

“I should not feel uncomfortable to walk on the Boardwalk with my children. The pole dancing that occurred one block away from my restaurant is unacceptable. She is a stripper and … if the businesses cannot have obscene or vulgar T-shirts displayed how can this be permitted?,” Ball said. “The Boardwalk is one of the main attractions in Ocean City. We must do everything in our power to make sure it is safe and family-friendly place to visit. I feel we can establish guidelines that will protect the right of Boardwalk businesses, tourists and the performers.”

Boardwalk business owner Jimmy Miller agreed the most important issue is safety, especially security when it comes to unattended belongings left behind by street performers who mark their spot.

“It is hard for me to comprehend how the city can pass a no smoking law but allow fumes from generators and spray painting to be allowed on the Boardwalk. It doesn’t make sense,” Miller added, directing his comments toward Chase. “I find it curious other than a few street performers, there isn’t anybody here. They aren’t helping us out.”

Several more street performers attended the public hearing to speak this week compared to last week.

Jim Stark, who has been performing on the Boardwalk for over 25 years, supported the permit process being reinstated that was found unconstitutional by the courts.

“Permits should be reissued at the cost of $100 or require a sign-in at City Hall to perform on the Boardwalk. I know the shop keepers on the Boardwalk pay a lot for their stores, plus licensing, electric, water, merchandise and employees, so when entertainers start to fill up the Boardwalk and they cut the shops off I can see why they are mad at us,” he said.

Boardwalk performer Jessica Guthrie

did not agree with a lottery/rotation, pointing out it will only create more issues.

“Drawing a name out of a hat will not provide fairness for us and with rotating performers I understand it will help with a nuisance but can you imagine the congestion of everybody playing musical chairs,” she asked. “I feel that is a lot of unnecessary time on the city’s behalf, and I feel as a Boardwalk performer we should not be the city’s problem. We should all be able to work together and be self-contained.”

Boardwalk performer Michael Moeller also stated a lottery/rotation will wreak havoc on Ocean City.

“I don’t understand how a lottery system or a rotation is any less restrictive than a permit that the court has already ruled doesn’t respect the rights of performers,” he said.

Moeller pointed out other destinations have a lottery/rotation in place but those locations differ greatly from Ocean City in population and being a destination year-round versus a few months out of the year.

“One of the things that work really well with the current system of first-come-first-serve is that you are limited as a performer in what you can lug out there … if you know in advance that you have that spot then you can pull up a van and start unloading,” he said. “Right now you have a system where you truly have to be a performer to be out there and I wouldn’t push that in a different direction. With a lottery system, the stores and businesses have more to lose.”

Moeller suggested re-opening N. Division Street as a discretionary location for large “circle acts”, which refers to performers who draw circular crowds. He pointed out N. Division St. isn’t used as often as Dorchester St. for emergency access.

“It is obvious that there are numerous people in the Ocean City community that wish street performers would disappear from the Ocean City Boardwalk if not entirely then at least to a large degree. We have heard why,” Moeller said. “I would strongly encourage this committee to make small recommendations and change things in increments to see what works and see what doesn’t work without making a huge sweeping change this summer that will make matters worse and more difficult than they already are.”

Following the public hearing, task force members put forth recommendations for Shockley to draft a report.

The majority of the task force agreed on multiple points starting with banning or restricting gas-powered generators, clearly defining a street performer clearance from fire hydrants, further defining art related to a performer and being able to sell their wares versus being a commercial enterprise, adding Dorchester St. as an off limits area for street performers due to its emergency access, requiring insurance for liability and collecting applicable taxes when selling art, creating a maximum footprint that performers will not be able to quarantine, not pursuing a lottery/rotation, a performer’s crowd should not take up any more than 50 percent of the Boardwalk or the police have the right to pause the performance and disperse the crowd, ban trademark costumed characters or implement a permit process or ID badge program, outlaw the touching of persons when it comes to body paint or henna tattoos and hair wraps, implement a daily time frame for performers to be on the Boardwalk and performer’s belongings cannot be left unattended for a long period of time.

“A lottery will not work. It will just cause more chaos. You’re going to end up with performers together that do not work well together. As a community, we get to know what performers work well together. It is a personality conflict,” Chase said. “The rotation sounds great on paper but it will not work.”.

Gerachis added if street performers are going to be restricted to street ends they should be on the east side only, clearing any obstructions from access points.

Knight suggested opening the concrete pad between Playland and Sportland to a rotating schedule for circle acts to help relieve congestion on the Boardwalk. He also agreed with re-implementing the permit process where a permit would have an expiration date, an ending time for performers at night and performers having to keep their area clean.

“There is consensus here and clearly there is an issue. It is practically capitalism running amuck but capitalism is not freedom of speech, and that is what I am having a hard time getting my arms around. Where, how and can we draw that line?” Rothermel said.

Shockley said a common ground may be found in street performers and Boardwalk business owners creating a committee of their own where they can self-regulate themselves.

“This has been very enlightening and one of the best things that have come out of it is people have been here to express themselves. There was pent up frustration, and it was getting ugly,” he said. “You guys [performers] can accommodate the movement, and that is what I would like to see come out of this. It will help scathe off some of the problems ahead of time, and there will be some mechanism with an issue that will arise right away.”

On March 18, the task force will receive Shockley’s draft report, and on March 25 the task force will meet to vote on the final report, which will then be forwarded to the Mayor and City Council.