New Street Performer Spot Added At Somerset Street

OCEAN CITY — A new designated location for a street performer on the Boardwalk at Somerset Street was approved this week, but not before an interesting debate on its potential impact on the downtown side street.

According to City Clerk Diana Chavis, who administers the often controversial street performer program in the resort, several buskers have recently requested an additional performer space on the Boardwalk at Somerset Street. The five-foot-by-five-foot spot would be located on the west edge of the Boardwalk at Somerset Street, a pedestrian-only tree-lined, brick-paved plaza with some shops and small restaurants.

There are currently around three dozen designated street performer locations on the Boardwalk from 9th Street south of varying sizes from the larger 10-foot by 10-foot spots to the smaller five-foot by five-foot spaces. Chavis said the request for Somerset Street included a larger 10-foot by 10-foot space, but after consulting with the transportation department, it was recommended the new space be a five-foot by five-foot space because of the volume of pedestrian traffic in the area.

However, it was that pedestrian traffic that nearly derailed the request for the new busker space at Somerset Street this week. Somerset Street is designed as a pedestrian-friendly plaza intended to direct some of the throngs of people off the Boardwalk and into the downtown’s side streets. Councilmember Mary Knight on Monday said she had concerns putting a street performer at the head of the street with its anticipated number of onlookers could impede the flow of foot traffic to
Somerset Street and impact the small businesses there.

“Somerset is a beautiful street and it’s supposed to get pedestrian traffic down there,” she said. “There are two new restaurants down there and some existing businesses. Have we asked them about how they would feel about having a performer on the street? … I’m not sure it serves everybody’s best interest to have a performer there. I would hate to do anything that would impact those new businesses down there and the existing ones because we’re trying to encourage people to go down there. That’s my concern.”

Chavis said the size of the potential new spot would not likely impede the flow of traffic to Somerset Street.

“It’s just a five by five,” she said. “I’m not sure what kind of performer would use it. I’m not sure if it would draw a crowd.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman said creating a new performer space at Somerset Street could actually improve the flow of traffic to the plaza, not impede it.

“I really don’t think it will hinder anything going on down there,” he said. “If anything, maybe more performer space at Somerset Street would create more pedestrian traffic down there.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the new performer space could have a positive effect on the plaza and pointed out other Boardwalk businesses didn’t always have the opportunity to weigh in on the allocated performer areas.

“I understand the concerns, but we didn’t offer anybody else on the Boardwalk an opportunity for feedback,” he said. “I agree with Councilman Hartman. Creating a spot there may get people to take a closer look at Somerset Plaza. I think having performers down there could create a Mallory Square of sorts down there.”

After hearing the arguments, Knight reversed her opinion, saying, “You’ve convinced me, that’s why we have a dialogue on these things.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the performer space at Somerset Street.

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.