OCEAN CITY — A clearly divided Ocean City Council finalized this week the start time for summer fireworks shows on the Boardwalk at 10:30 p.m., a compromise that arose from a discussion earlier this year about moving the displays from the current 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
During a larger debate on value-added special events in February, it came to light not all were in favor of the traditional 10 p.m. start time for fireworks on Monday and Tuesday nights throughout the summer. While most agreed the value-added special events are successful in enhancing the visitor experience in Ocean City, some Boardwalk merchants voiced concern the 10 p.m. start time occurs right in the middle of the busiest time of the night in the summer to the detriment of the bottom line.
Some advocated moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. to keep business flowing on the Boardwalk and provide a type of crescendo on the typical summer evening. Others said 11 p.m. was too late for many families with children and advocated keeping the start time at 10 p.m. The debate in February began at the Tourism Commission level and spilled over the next day to the Mayor and Council meeting.
No firm decision was made on the fireworks start time after those discussions and the Mayor and Council tasked the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and its Boardwalk Committee to poll Boardwalk business owners for their preference on the start time. While the survey did produce some varied and valid comments, it certainly wasn’t decisive.
Of the 96 surveys sent out, 14 favored the 10 p.m. start time and 14 favored moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. Four expressed a desire for a compromise time of 10:30 p.m. and two had no preference. Based on the results, the OCDC recommended the compromise 10:30 p.m. start time, but no firm action had been taken by the Mayor and Council. On Tuesday, Councilman John Gehrig broached the subject again, pointing out no decision had been made with the season quickly approaching. Gehrig made a motion to approve the 10:30 p.m. compromise, which the council ultimately approved with a narrow 4-3 vote, but not before more a spirited debate.
“I’m not going to vote for it,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “It’s way too late. We’re a family resort and 10:30 p.m. is far too late at night for fireworks on the Boardwalk.”
Council President Lloyd Martin pointed to the OCDC poll as reason enough to move to the compromise 10:30 p.m. start time.
“The OCDC survey showed half were in favor of keeping the fireworks at 10 p.m. and half were in favor of 11 p.m.,” he said. “It was split right down the middle. I do like the fireworks downtown, and I think starting them at 10:30 p.m. might keep people on the Boardwalk a half an hour longer, so I can support this.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman disagreed with moving the start time even later, however, pointing out families with young children are often long gone before that hour.
“I’ve heard from families sharing the same sentiment as Councilman Dare just said,” he said. “With the lateness of it already and the young kids coming unglued, I think 10:30 p.m. is too late.”
Hartman said with the new 100 Nights of Lights promotion and other special events in the downtown area, the summer fireworks displays could be in question in the future.
“I like the fact they went to the businesses to get their input,” he said. “I think the bigger conversation after the season is whether we continue to do that down there at all. With the 100 Nights of Lights and the other things we have approved, I think we need to look at the overall concept.”
Hartman also pointed out the town’s printed marketing materials such as the visitor’s guide, for example, already had the start time advertised at the traditional 10 p.m. He questioned why the marketing materials listed the start time when no firm decision had yet been made.
“The deciding factor for me is that this has already been advertised at 10 p.m. in all of our printed marketing materials,” he said. “Someone acted out of order in doing that before we even made a decision to have fireworks. I don’t know who made that decision, but there are seven of us up here and the mayor. I hope in the future there’s a proper vote and things are done in order. We need to decide if we’re going to have them and at what time before we go to print advertising.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight agreed it was unfortunate some advertising had gone to print before a decision had been made on the start time. She also said she could not support the later start time for different reasons.
“It’s also in the larger calendar of events that went out to 30,000 taxpayers,” she said. “It’s all over the place. I’m going to vote against it because I think 10:30 p.m. is too late. One of the biggest complaints I get when I work in the information booth is the fireworks are too late already for families with kids and they’d like them even earlier.”
The council voted 4-3 with Gehrig, Martin and Councilmen Matt James and Tony DeLuca in favor to move the fireworks to a 10:30 start time.