OCEAN CITY — With modified rules and regulations in place for two of Ocean City’s signature events this year, the city’s Transportation Committee this week recommended not providing the typical shuttle service to the venues.
On Tuesday, the committee reviewed the upcoming White Marlin Open in the first week in August and the O.C. Air Show a week later. In the past, the town has provided a shuttle service to encourage fans to utilize the parking lots at the convention center and the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City.
Everything is different this year, however, for both major events. The White Marlin Open will go on as planned, just as it has for the last 47 years, but changes have been made to eliminate the huge gatherings at host Harbour Island at 14th Street.
The participating boats will still come to Harbour Island to weigh their potential winning catches each day, but the thousands of people who typically pile into the small community will be significantly reduced because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Instead, a satellite viewing area will be established at the bayside park between 3rd and 4th streets with large viewing screens for the weigh-ins and family-friendly concessions and vendors.
Enthusiasts will still be able to go to Harbour Island to watch the daily drama unfold, but organizers will issue a limited number of wristbands daily on a first-come, first-serve basis. The intent is to significantly reduce the crowd size and distribute the masses across larger areas. The wristbands will be distributed at 2 p.m. each day and they will be color-coded for each day. In addition, face coverings will be required for everyone over the age of 10 and no chairs, blankets or coolers will be allowed.
In years past, the town has provided a shuttle service from the convention center to Harbour Island, where parking is at a premium on the bayside residential areas. However, given the changes this year, the transportation committee debated if that service is still needed. Mayor Rick Meehan, a resident of Harbour Island, said it was uncertain still just how many wristbands would be distributed each day.
“They haven’t given us a number yet for occupancy at Harbour Island,” he said. “Considering they are going to drastically reduce that, I don’t think we need to provide that service this year.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said much of the prescribed capacity at the venue would likely be eaten up by the residents of the community.
“The residents at Harbour Island will take a lot of that capacity,” he said. “They’re going to issue the bracelets first come, first served, so I really don’t think we’re going to need that shuttle at all.”
Adkins said cancelling the dedicated shuttle did not mean attendees won’t be able to utilize the city bus system to the venue.
“They can still park at the convention center and get dropped off at 14th Street or 3rd Street,” he said. “That’s still an option.”
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the shuttle to the WMO was not likely needed this year.
“The White Marlin Open will be distributing the bracelets and I think they’ll reach the capacity pretty early,” he said. “I don’t think we should encourage large gatherings by providing a shuttle service to the venue. Remember, mass transportation is supposed to be essential only.”
The committee voted to forward a recommendation to the full council to postpone the shuttle service to the tournament this year.
The committee then turned its attention to the shuttle service provided for the OC Air Show, which was postponed in June and rescheduled for August 15-16.
In typical years, the town provides shuttle service to the main venue for the air show from both the convention center and the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City. However, following the similar theme of the prior discussion, the committee considered suspending that service.
“It’s going to sound like I’m repeating myself, but the air show can be viewed from many vantage points,” said Dare. “I don’t think we need to encourage large gatherings by bussing a lot of people right into the middle of that.”
Councilman Mark Paddack agreed.
“I’m going along with the motion,” he said. “Everything has changed. In previous years, the town has been packed and traffic is backed up for hours and the shuttle was a way to move people out of their quickly. I don’t know that we’re going to see that this year.”
The committee voted to forward a recommendation to the full council to suspend the shuttle service for the air show this year.
“I still stand by not encouraging large gatherings,” said Dare. “I think that a private shuttle could be arranged for those with tickets to the various venues. We used to close the streets for vendors, but if the vendors aren’t going to be there, there could be street parking available in those areas.”