OC Council Supports Marlin Fest Concept At Downtown Park

OC Council Supports Marlin Fest Concept At Downtown Park
The crew of the Canyon Blues is pictured with a $1.85 million check for their first-place fish in the 2020 White Marlin Open. Photo by Hooked On OC/Dave Messick

OCEAN CITY – Plans for a proposed Marlin Fest event at the downtown recreation complex in conjunction with the White Marlin Open in August were endorsed by Ocean City officials this week.

It’s been said some of the changes borne out of the COVID pandemic will likely stick around for the near future, and that appears to be the case with planning for this summer’s White Marlin Open. Last year, out of necessity in the midst to the COVID pandemic and associated restrictions, the White Marlin Open went off as planned albeit in a greatly modified format.

Nothing changed in terms of the tournament itself, and the daily weigh-ins were held at host Harbour Island just as they have been for decades. In fact, the White Marlin set a new prize money record with more than $6.8 million awarded to winners on board the 433 registered boats. However, because of COVID restrictions, the thousands of spectators that typically pour into Harbour Island each day during the tournament were not allowed to do so. Instead, event organizer White Marlin Open, Inc. came up with a modified plan to open a venue for spectators at the downtown recreation complex between 3rd and 4th streets.

The bayside venue included a large LED screen for viewing the WMO weigh-ins at the scale, open dock areas along with waterfront from which to spectators could view the sportfishing boats come in as they made their way to the scale. There were some light refreshments offered, but the event was generally low-key and attendance was light.

On Monday, White Marlin Open, Inc. officials presented a plan to create a Marlin Fest event at the downtown recreation complex during the tournament in the first full week in August. The proposed event would be significantly larger in scale then the rather modest satellite viewing area last year.

The plan calls for the same big-screen video monitor and open areas from which spectators can watch the boats come in. However, the plan also calls for vendor tents selling WMO and other merchandise, In addition, the plan calls for two bars selling beer, wine and alcoholic beverages, numerous food trucks and entertainment, all within the footprint of the recreation complex.

According to the plan, the beer and wine sales would benefit the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), which would man the booths with volunteers and share in the proceeds. WMO officials in a memo describing Marlin Fest made it clear the intent was not to supplant the traditional venue at Harbour Island, but rather augment it.

“The concept of this event is not intended to take the place of having spectators gather at Harbour Island to watch the weigh-ins live, but to provide another option that allows a larger, open space for viewing and is more family-friendly,” the memo reads. “This location will provide another option to view the weigh-ins live on the big screen and watch the boats on their way to Harbour Island.  Nationally-recognized sponsors and local vendors will be welcome to participate in the event.”

The Marlin Fest events are scheduled to be held from Monday, Aug. 2 to Friday, Aug. 6 from 3 p.m. each day until the scale at Harbour Island closes at 9:15 p.m.

Special Events Coordinator Lisa Mitchell outlined the proposed event for the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.

“This year, they would like to expand operations at 3rd Street,” she said. “They would like to offer food and drink and have more vendors and entertainment.”

With the additional cost to produce the event, WMO organizers were initially going to seek a $25,000 contribution from the Mayor and Council. However, after a discussion with special events staff, the WMO organizers are going to apply for a tourism development grant from the town’s Tourism Advisory Board (TAB).

There are some details yet to be worked out. The event organizers are going to consult with the Worcester County Health Department to ensure all the state and local COVID directives that are still in place in August are adhered to. The Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office also needs to sign off on the event plans.

In addition, the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners also needs to sign off on the off-premise sale of beer, wine and liquor at the event. The OCDC will be the applicant for the liquor license for the event with the BLC, although WMO Attorney Joe Moore said he believed that would be a formality.

“We will go with the OCDC to the BLC for approval,” he said. “We’re confident they will approve this plan. It’s a major economic driver for the town of Ocean City.”

Moore said he was confident Marlin Fest would prove to be a nice adjunct for the WMO.

“We believe we have a good plan,” he said. “Last year was successful down there, but we think this year will be an even better plan.”

There is still a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) required outlining each party’s formal responsibilities for the proposed event. Nonetheless, the council voted unanimously to support the event.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.