Council Reluctantly Approves OC BikeFest Funding; Event Sought $25K, Received $10K

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials this week somewhat reluctantly approved a $10,000 supplementary allocation to OC BikeFest 2016 organizers, although the grant fell short of the $25,000 requested by the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB).

Each year, the Mayor and Council include in the budget an allocation to TAB allowing the advisory board to seek out and help fund various special events, many of which bolster the shoulder seasons in the resort. This year, as in years past, $300,000 was allocated in the budget for TAB to utilize to attract and retain special events, but the $300,000 in this year’s budget has already been earmarked for other events.

As a result, TAB Vice Chairman John Gehrig came before the Mayor and Council on Tuesday seeking a special $25,000 supplemental allocation for OC BikeFest organizers to help offset the cost of procuring entertainment for the 2016 event, which officially gets underway next Thursday. After considerable and often chippy debate, the Mayor and Council voted on a compromise measure to allocate $10,000 to OC BikeFest this year.

Among the entertainers set to appear at OC BikeFest include the bands Autograph, Slaughter, KIX, Candlebox, Red Sun Rising and Three Doors Down. OC BikeFest and its accompanying Delmarva Bike Week, headquartered at Perdue Stadium and Winterplace Park in Salisbury and Rommel Harley-Davidson Delmarva in Seaford, Del., run from Sept. 15-18.

In his pitch for an additional $25,000 for OC BikeFest from the town this year, Gehrig pointed out how the event has grown and is now one of the highlights of the year in the resort. No one can argue Bike Week puts heads in beds and crowds resort restaurants and other businesses during mid-September, and Gehrig hammered home those points as he pushed for the $25,000 allocation.

“I don’t know if we remember what is was like before Bike Week,” he said. “I did some research and the room rates in mid-September were already down to $59, but now during Bike Week we operate at peak season rates. The participants spend money at all of businesses. For some, this is July 4th, this is St. Patrick’s Day, this is their biggest weekend of the year.”

Gehrig said pursuing promoters and nurturing the special events is a way to reach out to and attract a new generation of vacationers and offseason visitors and could break the mold for the traditional seasonal marketing strategy.

“We need to plant the seeds for future growth because tourism trends are against our traditional form of business,” he said. “Ocean City is based on families coming year after year and their kids coming with their families year after year, but that’s not how millennials work. The future of Ocean City isn’t going to be that anymore. They’ve grown up with the Internet and they’re getting destination information from everywhere. We’re competing with destinations we don’t even know about. We need to identify strategies to fight that trend, but Ocean City can benefit from that trend and the key to getting repeat visits is to get the special events here.”

Gehrig said the requested allocation was small compared to the return on the investment in terms of room tax, strong offseason business and the large contributions OC Bikefest makes to the non-profit organizations in the community it benefits.

“We believe this $25,000 investment in an event that continues to grow year after year is intelligent,” he said. “It is dollars and sense. This is about making money.”

Gehrig said he realized OC Bikefest brings with it traffic and noise, but said it was not much different than some of the other special events. The tradeoff, he said, was all of the benefits the event brings to the community.

“I live in town and I know about the noise, but my dog doesn’t like fighter jets flying over my house either,” he said. “That’s the price we pay for living here.”

While no one on the council disputed the value of OC Bikefest to the resort’s shoulder season, not all were comfortable with allocating another $25,000 on top of the $300,000 granted to TAB in the budget. Councilman Dennis Dare said the money could be better spent on other costs associated with OC BikeFest.

“In the past, TAB has come in with recommendations for money earmarked in the budget, but it seems the $300,000 has been obligated elsewhere,” he said. “The bottom line is, I don’t disagree with the value of this event, but we just approved a few minutes ago the dates for the Corvette event. That’s a great event, but it has never asked us for money.”

Dare said the highly successful bike week events, which attracts an estimated 170,000 attendees and accounts for roughly 40,000 hotel room-nights, should be financially self-sufficient without a supplementary allocation from the town.

“This is a large event and it should be able to stand alone,” he said. “I’d rather spend the $25,000 on public safety. This event requires us to bring in extra law enforcement and that comes with a cost. You’re not going to lose the event over a $25,000 grant. You’re going to lose it over an incident.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight said she agreed with both arguments and proposed a compromise of sorts.

“I agree with everything John [Gehrig] has said, and I agree with everything Councilman Dare has said,” she said. “I think there could be a compromise here. I make a motion to reimburse the event an additional $10,000, but this is the last year for doing this.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with all of its recent success, OC BikeFest should be able support itself without any more supplementary allocations from the town.

“I agree with what this event has done for this town,” he said. “We put $45,000 in the budget for bringing in other law enforcement agencies during special events and $15,000 of that just covers Bike Week. We do support the event financially and now that it is an established event, they should be able to stand on their own.”

After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to approve the compromise $10,000 allocation with the caveat OC BikeFest organizers should not come looking for a supplemental contribution in the future.

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.