OCEAN CITY – Among the biggest takeaways from Monday’s presentation of planned special events this summer was a change in the number and size of the beach fireworks displays and the addition of some drive-in concerts and movies at the Inlet lot.
During Monday’s Tourism Commission meeting, TEAM Productions’ Bob Rothermel introduced a working plan for special events throughout the resort this summer with the emphasis on the planning document as a draft. As usual, the plan includes weekly fireworks shows at Northside Park in conjunction with the Sundaes in the Park event.
The tentative plan also included a total of 11 fireworks shows on the beach downtown on Thursdays from mid-June to late-August along with another on Labor Day Monday. However, after some debate from commission members, the beach fireworks could see the number of shows reduced in favor of targeted longer and bigger displays.
TEAM Productions’ tentative plan also includes some new wrinkles, such as a series of drive-in concerts at the Inlet Lot and drive-in movies at the Inlet Lot through much of the summer. The plan also includes the return of the popular OCToberfest events coordinated around Halloween.
Summer Fireworks Debate
The plan for fireworks presented by TEAM Productions and Rothermel on Monday loosely followed a typical summer schedule. For example, it includes the 12 shows on Sundays throughout the summer at Northside Park and 11 more beach fireworks shows in the downtown area near the Boardwalk.
However, committee member Kevin Gibbs pointed out recent discussions with the various associations and organizations, such as the Downtown Association, for example, appeared to favor an altered plan for the beach fireworks.
“In our discussions, it was decided we’d like to see fewer shows, but better quality and larger shows,” he said. “Instead of 11 shows, maybe cut back to five or six and condense the fireworks into bigger and better shows. We could have theme nights for the reduced number of beach fireworks shows such as the air show, Christmas in July and the White Marlin Open, for example.”
Gibbs said discussions called for earlier start times for the beach fireworks downtown, perhaps as early as 9:30 p.m. The beach fireworks in recent years have gone off at 10:30 p.m.
Roughly four years ago, the beach fireworks start time boiled to a head, with some Boardwalk merchants favoring a 10 p.m. start time, or around dusk. Others favored pushing the beach fireworks start time back to 11 p.m. After considerable debate, including a merchant survey that saw participants split almost directly down the middle, the 10:30 start time was reached as a compromise.
Some Boardwalk merchants voiced concern the 10 p.m. start time occurred right in the middle of the busiest time of the night in the summer to the detriment of their bottom line. Others advocated moving the start time to 11 p.m. to keep business flowing on the Boardwalk and provide a crescendo of sorts on a typical summer evening.
Still others said an 11 p.m. start time for the fireworks was too late for families with children and advocated for staying with 10 p.m. After all of that discussion came the compromise of 10:30 p.m. Now, it appears the downtown merchants, according to Gibbs’ updates on their recent meetings, are in favor of going back to the early start time, perhaps as early as 9:30 p.m.
Ultimately, the committee voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council for the proposed summer fireworks schedule with the various tweaks discussed including fewer, but larger and better shows, targeted theme nights for the fewer shows and the earlier start time.
“We need to pick dates we can build on,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think it all sounds great. I’ve been in favor of the earlier start time all along.”
The recommendation included keeping the plan for the north-end fireworks at Northside Park the same. The plan calls for 12 Sunday shows from June 13 to Sept. 5 in conjunction with the popular Sundaes in the Park events. Those shows begin at 9 p.m. following Sundaes in the Park.
Summer Concert Series
The plan presented on Monday also includes a summer-long concert series at various venues throughout the resort. Rothermel said the plan was for small beach concerts that would be free and socially-distanced at North Division Street with targeted dates in June, July and August.
The plan also includes a major ticketed concert during the ArtX event at Northside Park on Aug. 21, followed by another major concert on the beach at North Division Street targeted for Aug. 29. He said he has been in negotiations with major artists for the two larger concerts, although he was not at liberty to divulge with whom he had discussions because the negotiations are still sensitive.
A new wrinkle this summer could be the addition of drive-in concerts at the Inlet lot. According to Rothermel, a portable sound stage could be set up at the Inlet lot for ticketed concerts with dates in early June. Throughout the pandemic, drive-in events including significant concerts became increasingly popular because of their ability to keep people distanced socially while allowing them to enjoy live music. Rothermel said the concept for Ocean City would be to schedule three such ticketed events at the Inlet lot in June.
“We want to really frontload events in early June with drive-in tourism,” he said. “We’ve had negotiations with artists for drive-in concerts at the Inlet Lot. We expect to draw as many as 500 to 600 cars for the drive-in concerts. The parking revenue loss for the town would be built into the cost of the tickets.”
Another side effect of the pandemic last year was the popularity of drive-in movies at the convention center lot, and the private sector got in on the action later in the season when some of the COVID-related restrictions were eased.
Rothermel said the plan for this summer called for a series of 12 drive-in movies at the Inlet lot running from June 14 to Aug. 30. The family-friendly films would be shown on a bright LED video wall that would allow the movies to be shown at earlier, non-peak times at the Inlet lot and the attendees would get the sound through their vehicle’s FM radios.
He said the drive-in movie program at the convention center last summer was popular, but the lot would not be available this summer because the venue will likely be back to hosting conventions, concerts and other events.
“We had great success with the drive-in movies at the convention center,” he said. “We would expect to recreate that at the Inlet lot. It’s not going to take up a lot of space and, again, you’d get the parking revenue back through the ticket cost.”
OCToberfest To Return
Rothermel said the special events planned for 2021 include the return of the popular OCToberfest. The event, spread over three-day from October 22-24 includes the Halloween-themed beach maze, the wildly popular Pet Parade on October 23, and the Great Pumpkin Race set for October 24.
In recent years, the fall event has been spread over two weekends, but Rothermel said recent history shows at least one of the weekends gets wiped out by fall storms or inclement weather. He said the concept is to condense all of the elements of the fall event into one spectacular weekend with a rain date in place in case of storms or inclement weather.