Weekly Downtown Fireworks Displays Questioned

Weekly Downtown Fireworks Displays Questioned
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OCEAN CITY — Resort tourism officials this week waffled somewhat on the idea of weekly fireworks in the future, instead agreeing to explore other special events that will enhance the summer visitor experience.

During Monday’s meeting, the Ocean City Tourism Commission continued its piecemeal section-by-section review of the town’s tourism strategic plan with a focus on enhancing the visitor experience. The town offers many free, value-added special events throughout the season including weekly fireworks shows downtown at the Boardwalk and uptown at Northside Park during the Sundaes in the Park events.

The latter has been highly successful in enhancing Sundaes in the Park, which has reached record numbers in recent years. However, tourism commission members questioned if weekly fireworks on the Boardwalk downtown have grown stale and wondered if there could be other events to increase the “wow” factor for visitors.

The current plan locked in for the upcoming summer is for eight fireworks shows at the Boardwalk on Monday nights from July 8 through Aug. 26 and that won’t change. The contract with the promoter has been approved and the weekly fireworks schedule has already been published in various visitor guides and other mediums. However, Councilman and commission member John Gehrig questioned if at least the weekly fireworks shows downtown were still valid as a value-added amenity in the future as part of the larger discussion of enhancing the visitor experience.

“How do we feel about bailing on fireworks?” he said.

Commission member and Boardwalk business owner Todd Ferrante agreed there had been some recent debate about the start times for the fireworks downtown, but cautioned against abandoning them altogether in the future.

“I think there is still some need and want for them,” he said. “You have 40,000 people up on the Boardwalk at any one time and a lot of them are there for the fireworks.”

Gehrig said he wasn’t suggesting abandoning the fireworks shows, especially at Northside Park, but wondered if the weekly shows at the Boardwalk had grown stale.

“When we first discussed this, we talked about Sundaes at the Park and how the fireworks have really added to the attendance to the point it is maxed out,” he said. “I’m just not sure the weekly fireworks downtown still have the same appeal.”

Commission member and uptown hotelier Michael James said the appeal of the north-end fireworks is far greater than the Sundaes in the Park event and pointed out the shows are enjoyed all over the north end.

“The thing to remember is, it’s just not Northside Park,” he said. “You can see the fireworks all over north Ocean City. I think there is real value in that.”

Gehrig reiterated he was not suggesting getting rid of downtown fireworks, but said the town and its visitors could get more bang for their buck, so to speak, with few shows on a larger scale.

“Maybe we take two of the lesser shows and spend the same amount of money and have one grander show,” he said. “In my opinion, every experience should be grand and great.”

Commission member and Boardwalk business owner Stephanie Meehan agreed.

“Maybe instead of weekly fireworks, we have them on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and maybe Halloween to close it out. I agree we could have fewer events, but make them much more spectacular,” Meehan said.

Special Events Director Frank Miller, who coordinates the schedule for the fireworks shows with the promoter, said he needed some direction from the commission and, ultimately, the Mayor and Council, but said there was room for out-of-the-box thinking in the future.

“You just need to figure out when you want to do it, who pays for it and let us come up with events that fit those parameters,” he said. “There are lots of things we can do. We just need to know what the parameters are.”

Gehrig said whatever came out of the discussion, increasing the number of visitors during the week needed to be part of the formula.

“We’re strong on Saturdays and that’s about it,” he said. “Everything else is a struggle. Let’s be honest.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed it might be time to explore other value-added events for visitors that could include occasional fireworks shows.

“I think the fireworks are a nice value-added amenity, but they aren’t a big event,” he said. “I think we need to look at other things. I also think we shouldn’t abandon fireworks altogether. We know some people complain, but when they’re suddenly stopped, we’ll hear people saying what happened to the fireworks.”

Meehan said he often walks the Boardwalk on summer nights and that the fireworks still have appeal for many.

“I go up there and there are a lot of people sitting on that seawall waiting for the fireworks,” he said. “It means a lot to a lot of people.”

Gehrig reiterated fireworks could still be part of a larger plan to enhance the experience for visitors, but suggested whatever events and amenities are chosen should be the best. He referenced a proposal to bring the Punkin Chunkin World Championships to the Inlet next fall.

“Everything should be world championship quality,” he said. “Even if there are fewer events, everything about the Ocean City experience should be grand. I don’t want a regional punkin chunkin event. If we do it, I want the world championship. Everything we do should be world class.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.