OCEAN CITY — With little fanfare and virtually no new discussion, the council this week voted to keep the summer fireworks start at 10:30 p.m.
For years, the weekly fireworks displays on Monday and Tuesday nights during the summer began at 10 p.m. Last year, however, after an often-contentious debate, the downtown fireworks start time was moved to 10:30 p.m., representing a compromise of sorts. Some advocated moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. to keep business flowing on the Boardwalk during the peak hours, while others contended a 10 p.m. start time was more-family friendly for families with young children.
After contentious debate at different levels, the council ultimately compromised last year and set the Boardwalk fireworks start time at 10:30 p.m. However, with a new summer season approaching, the debate renewed over the last few weeks at different levels. Last week, the Mayor and Council appeared poised to make a decision on the fireworks start time, but no consensus was reached and the issue was sent back to the tourism committee for a recommendation. On Monday, after more debate, the tourism committee voted unanimously to forward a recommendation to retain the 10:30 p.m. start time established last year. On Tuesday, after hearing the committee’s recommendation, the council voted 5-1, with Councilman Dennis Dare opposed and Councilman John Gehrig absent, to retain the 10:30 p.m. start time.
During Monday’s tourism committee meeting, committee members discussed the merits of both options for the start time for the fireworks. Committee member and Boardwalk business owner Todd Ferrante pointed out some of the printed material such as the visitor’s guide, for example, had already posted the fireworks start time at 10 p.m. although he didn’t believe the half an hour made much of a difference either way.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big change for anybody either way,” he said. “For what it’s worth, we already have printed material like the visitors guide that has them at 10 p.m., but I don’t think a half an hour either way is going to hurt anybody.”
Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) Boardwalk Committee representative Vicky Barrett said many of the questions fielded at the information kiosk on the Boardwalk were related to fireworks start times.
“From the information cottage, the most questions we got were about the start time for the fireworks,” she said. “Most felt 10:30 p.m. was a little late. It is a family Boardwalk and most felt 10:30 was too late for families with young children.”
Tourism Committee member and Boardwalk business owner Stephanie Meehan said the half an hour could make a difference on people’s decisions to leave the Boardwalk.
“At 10 p.m., the fireworks are done around 10:15 p.m. and a lot of people will stay on the Boardwalk after they are over,” she said. “At 10:30 p.m., now it’s 10:45 or so before they are over and pushing 11 p.m. so most start heading to their cars and call it a night.”
Gehrig said there was no hard evidence that families started to leave the Boardwalk when the fireworks ended and drew from his own experiences.
“It’s almost an assumption that people are going to leave the Boardwalk after the fireworks, but I’m not sure that’s the case,” he said. “I have kids and maybe I wished they started at 10 p.m., but we’re still going to watch them at 10:30 p.m.”
Ferrante advocated for keeping the fireworks start time at 10:30 p.m. this year.
“Being in business on the Boardwalk for 20 years, things have changed,” he said. “Some people will stay and some people will go. I think we leave it at 10:30 p.m. this year and see what happens. For a lot of retailers, by 10:30 or 11 p.m., it’s almost over for the night anyway.”
Barrett said the issue was largely related to the impact on some Boardwalk merchants. During a push for 11 p.m. last year, some merchants said customers would leave their stores as soon as the fireworks began and many did not return after.
“The one thing we discussed was a lot of merchants are saying they didn’t have a particularly good year last year and it had nothing to do with the fireworks,” she said. “I don’t think that half an hour makes much difference to the patrons, but it does make a big difference to the merchants.”
However, Ferrante pointed out the fireworks were a value-added free event for the benefit of the visitors.
“The thing to remember is the fireworks are for the patrons,” he said. “We have to think about them. That’s who we do this for. We can please half the people with 10 p.m., and we can please the other half with 10:30 p.m.,” he said. “At this point, I think we leave it at 10:30 p.m. like it was last year.”
The tourism committee voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation for retaining 10:30 p.m. to the Mayor and Council. The next day, the council approved the 10:30 p.m. start time for the fireworks with little more discussion.