OCEAN CITY — It appears there will be a Christmas parade in Ocean City on the first Saturday in December after the council majority on Tuesday voted to move forward with the event.
Special Events Director Frank Miller on Tuesday pitched his concept of a modified Christmas parade uptown on Coastal Highway on Dec. 5. The parade route runs north on Coastal Highway from Old Landing Road to 120th Street and concludes with family-friendly activities at the Carousel Resort and Hotel. Miller said the typical high school bands and other youth groups will not be participating because of ongoing school closure and COVID-related issues, but there appears to be enough interest from the private sector to move forward with the event.
“We heard early on the Worcester County schools would not be participating this year and that has been confirmed,” he said. “The three high schools are not going to be participating this year due to the fact they haven’t been able to get their students together to practice, whether its bands, or cheerleaders or ROTCs. That led us to have some concerns for the event.”
Without the school bands and other groups, Miller pivoted in a different direction to round out the parade entertainment.
“I asked the chamber and the HMRA to reach out to local businesses and my staff began to reach out to past participants from prior years to get some idea of who was willing to participate in a 2020 event and who was not,” he said. “We got 66 responses back, including some new ones.”
Miller said 12 previous participants said they would not be participating this year. A total of 39 said they would be willing to participate, including nine new entrants, representing a 23% increase in new participants. Seven more said they were undecided and eight haven’t yet answered.
Of those that responded they would participate in the 2020 parade, five are vehicle clubs, seven are floats, five are other elements, 17 are vehicle-related elements and three are marching units.
Miller said the anticipated cost of hosting the event is around $18,000, of which two-thirds is public works-related and one-third is police-related. When asked if the Worcester County Health Officer had rendered an opinion on hosting the Christmas parade, Miller said he was gauging the interest from the Mayor and Council and getting his ducks in a row before having that formal conversation.
“We haven’t had that direct conversation yet,” he said. “The last time we spoke was on Winterfest and that outside event and she was happy with the modifications to that event. Parades early on were not an issue, which allowed us to do the high school graduation back in May.”
Miller said he would have a formal conversation with County Public Health Officer Becky Jones once he had a firm plan to present to her. He said there will be a single judge’s podium with appropriate distancing, but not the typical grandstand set up along the highway.
“Given how busy she is with so many things, it seems valuable to have a lot of facts in front of her when that conversation takes place,” he said.
Councilman John Gehrig made a motion to move forward with the Christmas parade with the caveat a conversation is held with the county health officer. He pointed out parades are currently allowed under the governor’s executive orders with social distancing and the wearing of masks when social distancing can’t be accomplished.
“I think we should proceed,” he said. “Based on the demand and the eventual conversation with the health officer, let’s move forward and celebrate Christmas.”
Miller said the expectation is the crowd size for the parade would be lower than in traditional years for a variety of reasons.
“We anticipate losing some of the crowd,” he said. “Simply because the schools are not involved, we’re not going to see parents and grandparents coming out to see their kids. Also, some of our older visitors will decide not to come out.”
Miller said the tentative plans include the traditional post-parade family activities at the Carousel.
“The crowd is invited back to the Carousel, which is one of two sponsors,” he said. “They’re still looking to do that this year, but there will be some modifications.”
City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said a review of the governor’s current directives shows parades are allowed, but recommended Miller consult with the county health officer.
“At one point, there was a prohibition on parades, but some of the restrictions on gathering sizes have been lifted,” she said. “I think it would be best to work with the county health officer to get an opinion.”
At least one councilmember had already formed his opinion.
“Yesterday set a new all-time record for new cases around the country at 70,000,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “That topped the previous all-time record set the day before. That’s more than the peak in April. The CDC has come out and said we shouldn’t have family gatherings at Thanksgiving.”
For those reasons, Dare said he was not in favor of the town hosting a Christmas parade this year.
“This is another example of how we send the wrong message and put wealth before health,” he said. “This sends a bad message at a critical time.”
Nonetheless, the council voted 4-1 with Dare opposed and Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Mark Paddack absent to move forward with the modified plan for the parade, with the caveat the county health officer will be consulted.