OCEAN CITY — The night sky over Ocean City could be in for a major change this summer if a proposed 100 Nights of Lights free special event series pitched to the Mayor and Council this week is approved.
TEAM Productions, which produces many of the value-added special events throughout the summer including the weekly fireworks and laser shows, along with the OCToberfest event each fall, pitched a new idea to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday that would clearly ramp up the free weekly offerings to visitors and residents.
TEAM Productions’ Bob Rothermel and his son Jonathan on Tuesday presented an overview of last summer’s free special events and a plan to expand on the weekly offerings in the summer of 2017 including an added date for the highly successful Sundaes in the Park in mid-June.
New this year, however, could be a nightly light show on the beach near the south end of the Boardwalk called 100 Nights of Lights, which could illuminate the resort sky several times each night from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The proposed special event would feature a dozen large spotlights with filters of various colors lighting up the beach and Boardwalk and sky. The spotlights could utilize lifeguard stands, for example, or be mounted on portable trusses.
“We believe this will create iconic images,” said Rothermel. “It will feature giant spotlights, like searchlights at a Hollywood premiere, only our premiere is going to be every night. We’ll use the colored lights to paint the beach and Boardwalk from North 1st Street to Caroline Street.”
The proposed 100 Nights of Lights will feature 12 spotlights, each with 4,000-watt bulbs, in six displays. The displays will be featured six times a night, roughly every 20 minutes from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“We think it’s going to be a huge hit,” said Rothermel. “We’re here today asking you to support the program. We think it is art and we think it’s an opportunity to generate even more visitors.”
For each of the last five years, Ocean City has contracted with Rothermel and TEAM Productions to produce a myriad of free, family-friendly special events throughout the summer from the fireworks displays downtown and at Northside Park to the laser shows downtown and from Sundaes in the Park uptown to the increasingly popular OCToberfest around Halloween. The dual-purpose intent is to bring more visitors to the resort and provide them with free value-added special events once they get here.
In each of the last five years, the town has funded the special events with a $300,000 line item in the annual budget earmarked for the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB).
“The $300,000 for the Tourism Advisory Board comes from the advertising budget, which is paid for through the room tax,” said Tourism Director Donna Abbott. “The taxpayers are not funding it.”
With the addition of the proposed 100 Nights of Lights special event this year, the total cost of the package of special events could swell to $350,000, but Rothermel said on Tuesday he was confident he could attract private-sector sponsors to help offset the increase. On Tuesday, he was essentially seeking a reallocation of the usual $300,000 TAB contract and a blessing to move forward with the proposed 100 Nights of Lights events.
Although he supported the concept, Councilman Wayne Hartman asked for a breakdown of the individual costs of the various special events and questioned whether all of the TAB funding should be dedicated to the TEAM Productions package.
“I would like to see some of these things put out to bid and make sure they represent the best interest of the community,” he said. “I feel with this kind of money, I’d really like to see some breakdown on these events.”
However, Rothermel said the equations are sometimes complicated and was reluctant to share the breakdown of every individual special event even if he would have had it right in front of him.
“I consider that proprietary information,” he said. “The way it works is I bundle all of these events together as a package. I don’t want to show my competitors a breakdown on everything we’re doing.”
Hartman said he understood the proprietary nature of some of the things TEAM Productions does from a competitive standpoint, but merely wanted to make sure the town was getting the most bang for its buck.
“I get that,” he said. “Your job as a business is to protect your interest, but my job as an elected official is to protect the interest of the citizens and taxpayers.”
Councilman Dennis Dare also supported the value-added free special events and the concept of the 100 Nights of Lights, but withheld some reservations until certain issues were addressed.
“I’ve heard the free events give people something to talk about and promote the town,” he said,” he said. “I think this is a great idea, but I have a couple of concerns and I’d like to see it go back to the Tourism Committee. I didn’t hear anything about sound in the presentation and I wonder how that might impact the Boardwalk and the merchants. Also, I’d like to hear from the airport manager to make sure we don’t have any issues because it’s pretty close to the airport.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight made a motion to send the proposal back to the Tourism Committee, which she chairs, for further review and a recommendation to the full Mayor and Council.
Councilman John Gehrig said events such as the proposed 100 Nights of Lights not only bring people to town, but create a buzz that they pass on to their friends and neighbors.
“A lot of people think spending on marketing is to get people here, but we have to continue to market once they are here,” he said. “People are taking pictures with their kids at these things and sharing them all over the Internet, so marketing while people are here makes them advocates for us. Their family and friends wish they were here.”
Rothermel was asked if there was an estimate on how many people the proposed 100 Nights of Lights might attract each night, but he said it was uncertain. He said it would certainly draw people to the downtown area, but also provide a free amenity to those already strolling the boards each night.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s a little different than what we’ve done in the past. We’re not creating a focal point in any one place. It’s more like a move and go event, like watching the dancing waters at Bellagio [in Las Vegas], for example.”
Mayor Rick Meehan praised the free special events in general and the proposed 100 Nights of Lights specifically. Meehan said when he goes on marketing junkets in metropolitan areas, a frequent question is what special events the resort will be offering.
“These added-value free events are very important for Ocean City,” he said. “We’ve seen other destinations copy what we’re doing here. I was on the radio just this morning doing promotional work and one of the questions asked was what free events will Ocean City be offering in 2017. So yes, we do get asked that question and people are tuned into it.”
Knight said visitors to the Boardwalk during the summer are also very in tune with the special events, when they are happening and where they are taking place.
“I’m extremely excited about this,” she said. “When I work the information booth in the summer, people constantly ask what the next free event will be, and we can tell them we have something every night.”
After considerable debate, the council voted 6-0 with Council President Lloyd Martin absent to forward the proposal to the Tourism Committee for further review and a recommendation.