OCEAN CITY — In what could be a bold solution to a challenging problem, resort tourism officials this week endorsed an expanded, two-weekend Bike Week, the second of which could overlap with the troublesome unsanctioned pop-up car rally.
OC BikeFest promoter Chase Michael came before the Tourism Commission on Monday to pitch the idea of expanding the event over 10 days including two bookend weekends this year with an expanded budget to draw even more top performing acts. Michael said OC BikeFest and the associated Delmarva Bike Week are already on the map nationally. He said an expanded 10-day event with major acts on the bookend weekends could elevate that status further, sort of a Sturgis meets Coachella festival of motorcycles, top music entertainment and vendors.
“We’re looking to expand the event to a two full-weekend event,” he said. “We’re going to have a full music festival associated with OC BikeFest for two full weekends. The entertainment would be on the bookend weekends, but the vendors would be here for the full 10 days.”
Michael said in order for that to happen, OC Jams, which produces OC BikeFest, is seeking an infusion of funding from the two, either through the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) or another source.
“We’re seeking a request from TAB or some other source for funding assistance,” he said. “We will match the town’s contribution dollar-for-dollar, which will be used to book major bands.”
Michaels said OC BikeFest was seeking $250,000 from the town, which the promoter will match to bring the entertainment budget potentially to $500,000. After the 2020 Bike Week was postponed because of COVID, OC Bikefest was able to lock in an impressive line-up for the rescheduled 2021 event, which included Kid Rock, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Foghat, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Kix, Great White and Billy Idol. With an expanded event over two weekends, along with an expanded budget, Michaels said he was confident he could duplicate a similar line-up on the second weekend.
Michaels presented a couple of options for an expanded two-weekend OC BikeFest. The 2021 event is already locked in for Wednesday, Sept. 15 to Sunday, Sept. 19. One option is adding the weekend earlier, which would take the event from Wednesday, Sept. 8 to Sunday, Sept. 19. The second option would run from the original Wednesday, Sept. 15 start day through Sunday, Sept. 26.
The second option would put OC BikeFest right up top of the unsanctioned and unwelcomed pop-up car rally. Michaels said he was confident with OC BikeFest, which roughly draws around 150,000 in most years, even before if it was expanded over two weekends, could help supplant the pop-up car rally and perhaps force it to move elsewhere.
“Knowing the size of our event and the caliber of our event, as time went by, we’re pretty sure that weekend would become primarily Bike Week,” he said.
Michael pointed out OC BikeFest’s stellar track record in filling the resort’s accommodations, along with its restaurants, bars and other amenities.
“One of the most important things for Ocean City is the high occupancy rate,” he said. “We’ve been able to keep the occupancy rate well over 70%. In 2016, 2017 and 2019, the town’s occupancy rate during the event was at 71%. In 2018, there was a threat of a hurricane and we were still at 64%.”
Councilman and Tourism Commission member John Gehrig agreed the proposed expansion of Bike Week over two weekends could help supplant the pop-up car rally.
“If you fill up the hotel rooms with bikers, you can displace them,” he said. “Higher occupancy means higher rates and higher rates can put pressure on that group. If we’re going to do this, I want to solve a problem. It’s a pretty small investment if it fixes that problem. You are the one event in our inventory that can displace that, as long as you are confident you can handle it.”
Michaels said he was confident the potentially hundreds of thousands of OC BikeFest participants could gobble up the resort’s hotel room inventory over the roughly two-week period.
“Based on what I saw with the impounds and the towing, Saturday was two times bigger than Friday and Friday was two times bigger than Thursday,” he said. “If the rooms are booked by our people, it doesn’t leave much else available.”
Commission member Stephanie Meehan agreed the throngs of Bike Week enthusiasts could help force out the pop-up rally, but voiced concern.
“I think it’s great to have the bikers filling up the rooms,” she said. “My concern is that second weekend could be challenging because of that other event.”
Tourism Commission member Kevin Gibbs voiced concern overlapping the two significant events could have a counter-effect on the popular OC Bikefest.
“I’m a little worried about your client base,” he said. “Are you going to have that 55-year-old biker who doesn’t come back next year because of all of the crap? It might actually escalate the problem.”
However, Gehrig said the potential reward was worth the risk.
“They’ve taken ownership of that weekend,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have a solution. This thing is so big now. I don’t think any of us believe the solution is simple or painless. There’s a risk in doing nothing. There’s probably more risk in doing nothing.”
Gibbs agreed expanding Bike Week was a no-brainer, but remained uncertain about the second weekend.
“I think a two-week Bike Week is a home run,” he said. “Bike Week has been very, very good for Ocean City.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said she was confident with the years of working together with the town, OCBikefest will pull off the expanded event and advocated for the second weekend.
“We worked with Kathy [Michael] since day one and we have a great relationship,” she said. “You’re familiar with us and we’re familiar with you. I would definitely recommend that second weekend.”
However, Special Events Director Frank Miller recommended a more cautious approach.
“I would hate to see you rule out the weekend prior,” he said. “You need to look at this as a long-term value and not a temporary solution in getting rid of the pop-up rally. Remember during the pop-up rally this year, a lot of our businesses closed early. What would that do to Bike Week if that happened again.”
Gehrig said there were a lot of details and concerns to work through, but recommended taking bold action. To that end, he made a motion to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council.
“These are all details to work through,” he said. “The important thing is, every penny we spend needs to solve a problem. We have to be strategic in our approach.”
Council President and commission chair Matt James agreed it would likely come down to the Bike Week participants filling up the hotel rooms.
“It all comes down to inventory,” he said. “If they don’t have a place to stay, hopefully they don’t come back.”