Ocean City’s Free Events Will Get Additional Scrutiny

OCEAN CITY — Some of the resort’s free, value-added special events could come under closer scrutiny after a discussion that began last week at the Recreation and Parks Committee meeting carried over to Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting.

In each of the last two years, Special Events Director Frank Miller has prepared a detailed follow-up report on many of Ocean City’s value-added special event in terms of return on investment and achieving the desired goals such as enhanced visitor experiences and contributions to the overall tourism business climate. The larger value-added special events include the weekly fireworks shows, Sundaes in the Park, movies on the beach, the family Olympics and, new this past year, the 100 Nights of Lights attraction on the Boardwalk to name a few.

During last week’s Recreation and Parks Committee meeting, Miller questioned if continuing to prepare reports on the value-added events served a valid purpose and suggested some of the events needed more scrutiny from different sets of eyes. For example, he said some of the free special events should likely be reviewed by the Tourism Committee and not the Recreation and Parks Committee.

“For two of the last three years, we’ve compiled these value-added events reports,” said Miller. “I’ll be glad to continue to do them, but I’m starting to wonder what the value is in them for you guys.”

Some of the value-added events, such as the family Olympics and the movies on the beach, for example, are organized and operated by the Recreation and Parks Department. Generally, they involve very little cost and attract a lot of visitors, so there is a minor fiscal impact relative to the good will they produce. Others, such as the weekly fireworks shows and the 100 Nights of Lights attraction that debuted last summer, are produced by a private sector promoter and require more of a financial commitment from the town. Miller said last week the 100 Nights of Lights attraction drew the attention of some of the sub-committees in the resort, such as the Boardwalk Committee, for example, and might need a little more in-depth review.

“There have been some comments at the committee levels expressing a desire to look at modifying that to make it more of a value-added event,” Miller said last week. “It probably needs to be addressed, although I’m not sure how. The promoter has said he would be happy to work together if needed to make modifications. It could be modified to be better at what the council envisioned it to be.”

Councilman and Recreation and Parks Committee Chair Wayne Hartman said last week he had not heard a ton of great feedback about the 100 Nights of Lights attraction.

“The feedback I got was that the 100 Nights wasn’t what was expected in terms of value,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody say it was a great move. We need to talk to the Boardwalk people. Does it draw a crowd? Do people stop to watch it? What value has it added for them?”

After considerable discussion last week, it was determined some of the larger value-added special events, such as the 100 Nights of Lights, fireworks, Sundaes in the Park and the Ocean City Beach Jam party, for example, should more appropriately be reviewed by the Tourism Committee.

During Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting, the discussion about the value-added special events was renewed. Miller told the elected officials the objectives of the free, value-added special event were varied.

“First of all, we look at events that give you higher return on investment,” he said. “A secondary objective is moving bodies around and, finally, bringing in a new tourism demographic that might not otherwise come to town. Some are feel-good events for people who are already here.”

Miller reiterated his assertion some of the value-added events should come under the auspices of the Tourism Committee.

“Have the tourism department look at some of these events,” he said. “We can work together and have some discussions on how to advance them.”

Councilman Dennis Dare related a story from when he was city manager a decade ago in the nascent days of some of the free, value-added special events.

“In 2008 when the economy was bad, people were looking for value,” he said. “I challenged our staff to come up with some free special events and it worked out pretty well. Everything runs its course. I’m not sure if some of value-added events have run their course, but I do know we dedicate a lot of resources to them. It might be time to take a closer look at some of these things and move on to the next phase.”

Council President Lloyd Martin agreed some of the events were cut back a decade ago when the economy went south, but reiterated many had rebounded and were highly successful.

“In 2008, we cut a lot of things back like Sundaes in the Park,” he said. “I think some of these things need a closer look and I think having the Tourism Department looking at them is a good thing.”

After considerable debate, the council voted to have the Tourism Department review some of the value-added events in cooperation with the Special Events department.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

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.