Special Events Contract Favored; More Northside Park-Based Events Discussed

OCEAN CITY — After reviewing the successes of the various value-added special events throughout the year in the resort, Ocean City officials this week voted to send a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council for extending the Tourism Advisory Board’s $350,000 contract through 2017.

The Tourism Commission met on Monday to discuss the wide variety of special events including the popular laser shows, fireworks displays, free concerts and other value-added offerings. TAB and TEAM Productions for the last several years have produced the increasingly popular free, value added special events, much to the delight of residents and visitors alike.

With TEAM Productions’ contract set to expire at the end of the year, promoters Bob Rothermel and Jack Hennen came before the Tourism Commission on Monday to seek a favorable recommendation for renewing the $350,000 contract for another two years through 2017. After considerable discussion about the various events, the Tourism Committee voted unanimously to endorse the contract extension.

TEAM Productions and TAB coordinates many of the special events with Ocean City Special Event Superintendent Frank Miller. Miller told the committee the town’s business owners were pleased with the results, but some questioned if they were too bunched up.

“We polled businesses from 1st Street to the pier and got a lot of good feedback,” he said. “One thing we heard over and over was taking a look at separating some of those Monday and Tuesday special events. Some mentioned Thursday and coordinating with the Sunset Park concerts.”

Rothermel said many of the events have become popular and established in recent years and moving them around might create some confusion among visitors.

“One of the benefits of our Sunday, Monday, Tuesday special events schedule is keeping it compact,” he said. “I’ve found if you keep moving the events around, people lose track of when they are and where they are. I think it’s better to get into a routine and keep people interested and coming back.”

Councilmember Mary Knight agreed with the importance of continuity, but said a recent poll of visitors suggested visitors find out about the special events in varying ways.

“There is no way to get an exact count, but the survey looked at how many knew about the special events in advance and how many just happened upon them,” she said. “It was about 50-50 and I was really pleased with that.”

Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan shifted the focus of the discussion to special events at Northside Park and expressed an interest in pursuing an expansion of events at the popular venue.

“We’d like to really incorporate something a little more permanent up there, especially on that little hill that creates sort of a natural bandstand,” he said.

Councilman Dennis Dare said he envisioned an outdoor concert series at Northside Park at the location Meehan discussed.

“That soccer field at the west end near the flag monument is where I envision a bandstand of some sort,” he said. “The spectators could watch the concert from the field and then turn around and watch the fireworks.”

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel shared the same concept. Although the scale is different, she envisioned a similar venue in nearby neighboring Delaware.

“It could be something that becomes like The Freeman Stage,” she said. “The amount of people that attend those shows is unbelievable. It could be the beginning of something.”

The discussion then turned back around to enhancing the existing special events. Meehan suggested moving some of the events to later in the summer season.

“I’m not suggesting changing the number of events, but maybe shift them around,” he said. “I just think guests later in the summer seem to appreciate them more.”

Again, Rothermel said he was open to looking at changes, but was reluctant to switch around the proven events that have shown staying power.

“I’m reluctant to move them around too much because people are getting used to them,” he said. “If you tinker with them, you’ll see that 50 percent that know about them already start to drop off.”

One new item pitched by Rothermel and partner Hennen on Monday was a mobile visitor’s center of sorts with signage and information about the special events. Rothermel said while only in the planning stages, he envisioned a mobile visitor’s center with light-up lettering that could be moved easily from one location to the other in different areas of the town to promote the special events and provide other important town information.

One of the most recent special events in the resort was the Sandfest event on the beach in the downtown area leading up to Labor Day weekend. Rothermel said the event, which just celebrated its second year, was wildly popular this year.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I talked to 30 to 40 families and only two of them were from Maryland. Most said they heard about the event on the radio and decided to come to Ocean City.”

An upcoming event associated with Halloween is the OCtoberfest, which includes an interactive maze on the beach downtown with witches, ghosts and goblins, for example. Pursel asked if there was any consideration for targeting a larger audience with the event.

“Is there any potential for kids’ events during the day and a more adult-themed event at night?” she asked.

Hennen said it was possible, but not likely for a variety of reasons.
“We have all the props and things to take it to a different level and really ‘scary it up,’ but, again, the trick is always finding sponsorship money,” he said. “The one thing to consider is would we be competing with somebody in the private sector with their Halloween parties, etc.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.