OCEAN CITY – Next month’s Springfest was the latest shoe to drop after resort officials voted Wednesday morning to cancel the event due to uncertainties with the pandemic.
During Wednesday’s budget work sessions, the topic of Springfest was broached and a decision was ultimately made to suspend the event this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Just a day earlier, resort officials agreed to prohibit hotel, motel and other short-term lodging rentals until at least April 30 for non-essential people, and by Wednesday morning, cancelling Springfest became the next logical progression in the town’s efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. City Manager Doug Miller broached the subject during Wednesday’s budget deliberations along with Special Events Director Frank Miller.
“It’s my opinion and Frank shares this opinion this COVID-19 virus is going to extend well into May,” he said. “Now might be the right time to have a discussion on Springfest. We need to let the vendors and the entertainers where we are with that.”
While supporting the concept, Council Secretary Mary Knight questioned the financial impact of cancelling one of the resort’s prime special events.
“I agree it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “It would be improbable that we can pull that off in the first week of May. That’s around $435,000 in revenue. How do we make that up?”
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp explained there were certain fixed costs such as the event set-up, for example, that could be saved by cancelling Springfest now. In addition, the town provides significant in-kind services to pull off the event which would provide additional savings. However, the fiscal impact of cancelling Springfest ultimately paled in comparison to protecting citizens and halting or at least slowing the spread of the virus. Councilman Mark Paddack made a motion to suspend Springfest for 2020.
“I’ve been pondering this for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ll make a motion to suspend Springfest for this year. We need to start taking care of our vendors so we can get them back next year.”
Councilman Matt James seconded the motion, but questioned if Wednesday’s budget work session was the time and place for the decision.
“Do we need to make this decision today?” he said. “I can’t imagine a scenario where we’re not going to cancel it, but can we put this decision off for a few days to see how this evolves.”
Doug Miller said under the best-case scenario, the pandemic would not ease in time to save Springfest this year.
“If you look at what’s happening at other places, it looks like it’s a two-month cycle,” he said. “It started here in mid-March so that takes us into mid-May. Even if the governor relaxes the restrictions, it’s not like we’re suddenly going to be open for business. I’m hoping at this point we’re fully open by Memorial Day.”
James referenced a chart from an earlier meeting that showed peak predictions for the pandemic in Maryland and across the country.
“The chart shows the peak for the U.S. around April 15 and the peak for Maryland around May 1,” he said. “We’re very close to that peak with Springfest. Either way, I’m fine with it. If we take another five days to decide this, I’m okay with that, too.”
Frank Miller said even if the pandemic eases and many of the restrictions now in place are gradually relaxed, it would still likely take several weeks for a complete return to some sense of normalcy.
“When we do go into recovery mode, it will likely be phased,” he said. “It won’t go from where we are now to suddenly the lights come back on and we’re fully open with no restrictions. If we’re lucky enough to begin recovery in early May, it will be phased in over time. The reality is we’re likely to have restrictions to some degree as we head into mid-May toward Memorial Day.”
Paddack also pointed to the chart referenced earlier by James.
“I also saw that model,” he said. “We’re basically shut down right now. We’re talking about inviting up to 250,000 guests in the first week of May, or about a month out. I’m in a position right now to be prudent and protect our citizens. This is not going to go away completely in the next four weeks. Having all of those people in town suddenly in the first week of May is not prudent.”
The council voted 6-0 with Council President Lloyd Martin absent to suspend Springfest for 2020. Plans are already in place to facilitate refunds for vendors and concert ticket holders and to mitigate the impact on the current fiscal year budget.