OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week approved funding to offset losses from last year’s OC BikeFest, which was curtailed by a pending hurricane.
The Mayor and Council reviewed Tuesday a series of funding requests from the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) for various special events in the coming year. Each year, TAB gets an allocation paid for through a portion of the room tax to help fund certain special events.
The list presented to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday included $3,000 in funding for a wheelchair lacrosse tournament, up to $20,000 for a basketball tournament at the convention center in June, another $8,000 for the Kings of the Mat wrestling tournament next November for the benefit of the Stephen Decatur Junior Seahawks and the Decatur High School wrestling program.
Each of those events benefits the various organizations which promote and host them, and perhaps more importantly put heads in beds, which helps contribute to the room tax that supports the TAB budget. Another item on the TAB list presented this week was $20,000 for O.C. Jams to support the 2019 OC Bikefest.
The event has received funding support from the town in the past, but organizers have been told in recent years that funding stream had dried up. OC Bikefest showed back up on the TAB funding request again this year for a different reason. In the days leading up to last year’s bike week, Hurricane Florence was churning off the coast and a state of emergency was declared in Maryland. With the uncertainties surrounding the track of the storm, many of the ticketed concerts and larger vendors were moved from the Inlet lot into the convention center.
Because of the unpredictability of the storm, many of the participants who had already purchased tickets for the events decided not to come. As a result, newly-elected TAB President Steve Pastusak told the council on Tuesday the organizers had requested over $50,000 to help offset the losses from last year’s storm event. Pastusak said organizers were intent on honoring the pre-purchased tickets sold last year for this year’s event, which resulted in a deficit in the 2019 event’s budget.
“They asked for $50,000, but that number has been pared down to $24,000,” he said. “That would help them recoup the money they lost last year when the event was impacted by a storm. There were 2,500 people with tickets that they are going to honor this year.”
Councilman Dennis Dare drew from his experience of a similar situation in the past as a teaching moment.
“I remember Sunfest years ago when a storm tore down the tents and cancelled a Kool and the Gang concert,” he said. “The lesson we learned at the time is that we had to buy insurance for those kinds of unforeseen things. Maybe that’s what BikeFest should learn. Ocean City is not an insurance company and I can’t vote for that part of this.”
Councilman John Gehrig agreed he wouldn’t typically support subsidizing a private event, but said an exception was likely appropriate in this case.
“In general, I agree, but this is such a big event and they have been such a great partner with the town,” he said. “This is one of our least destructive events and on top of that, they pay us $135,000. In the spirit of doing business and being good partners, I think it’s okay to do this. It’s a key event for the town.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight also extolled the event’s virtues.
“You have to realize they stay in our hotels and they eat in our restaurants, and I’ve seen how they tip and they are very generous,” she said. “They also do a lot of charity and do a lot of good around town. They are beneficial in so many ways.”
Councilman Mark Paddack agreed an exception was likely appropriate.
“This event is critical in terms of generating revenue for our small businesses,” he said. “It’s really the nicest of the motor events. I think we should spend the $24,000 to help our partner get out of the hole somewhat.”
Pastusak said the pending hurricane could not have been predicted by organizers and also said the promoter has apparently learned the lesson about insurance.
“We felt like this was something they didn’t see coming,” he said. “We’ve pretty much said this is a one-time thing. They are taking advice and looking into getting insurance this year.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said he supported the proposal and had confidence in TAB to judiciously allocate the funding.
“We want them in town,” he said. “We want these special events. This is paid for out of TAB funding and they wouldn’t spend the money if they didn’t think this was important.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca made the motion to approve the TAB requests including the subsidy for bike week. That motion passed with a 6-1 vote with Dare opposed.
“I support this from a business partner aspect,” said DeLuca. “This is one of our best events. It’s a really great event and I think we should support them on this request.”