Special Event Fee Structure Discussed In Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — After adjusting vendor fees to accommodate the Marlin Fest event at the 3rd Street park last month, resort recreation and parks officials are taking a deeper look into the fee schedule for events in general.

In later April, the Mayor and Council had before them a memorandum of understanding with the White Marlin Open to host a Marlin Fest event at the bayside park between 3rd and 4th streets during the tournament in August. One sticking point in the MOU was the vendor fees for the event, which doesn’t fit easily into the town’s fee schedule for other special events.

Because Marlin Fest will be held on recreation and parks department property, the MOU called for a $600 per vendor fee under the current policy. Other special events on town property, such as the Inlet lot, for example, are charged a flat $75 rate for all vendors during the course of the event. WMO officials asked for, and were ultimately granted, relief from the $600 per vendor fee, but that debate led to further discussion of the event fees.

The Recreation and Parks Committee took up the discussion last week. Councilman and committee member Mark Paddack said the issue was first raised during the discussion of the Marlin Fest vendor fees.

“There was some question about the vendor fees,” he said. “Events at the Inlet lot have different fees versus events on recreation and parks property.”

Special Events Director Frank Miller said Marlin Fest was unique in that it was being held on city property, and could be subject to the same vendor fees as other events, but it was also on recreation and parks property, which have a different fee schedule.

“This is the first time we’ve had an event caught in the middle,” he said. “A lot of events have vendors that want to use the Inlet lot such as Wine Fest, for example, and there is a different fee schedule for that.”

Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito said the original intent of the different fees for events on parks property was to offset private events bringing in their own food and beverage vendors in competition with the city’s concessions.

“This would really apply to Northside Park because we run a concession there,” she said. “If somebody comes in and does food and drink, it allows us to recoup some of the revenue lost to an outside vendor.”

Petito said the overall vendor fee schedule for special events on recreation and parks property probably needs revisiting.

“I’d like to see us be consistent,” she said. “The original concept was somebody using our parks for a relatively small fee.”

Miller said the intent of the fee was not revenue-based, but rather to cover the town’s expenses for hosting events.

“The goal here is not to make the town money,” he said. “The goal is to cover the town’s cost of hosting an event.”

Councilman John Gehrig agreed Marlin Fest does not fit easily into the town’s existing fee schedule for events.

“Marlin Fest crossed into this blurred area,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to make it fair.”

Paddack said when the 3rd Street park is redeveloped, the issue with vendors using the park during special events will be exacerbated.

“When the 3rd Street park is redesigned, it’s going to be a challenge with more and more events,” he said. “When there is a path in there, and vendors set up in the grass, there could be potential damage to the park. The vendor fees should cover that potential damage.”

Miller said there were parallels to the Inlet lot, which is used often for special events. Every time a tent goes up on the Inlet lot, holes are punched in the asphalt.

The holes are repaired after the event is over and the tents come down, but the Inlet lot now needs a total repaving. Miller said the vendor fees at Inlet lot events could be adjusted to offset the cost of repaving the lot every 20 years or so, but it is also an expense borne by the town in exchange for the revenue the events bring into town.

“The Inlet lot needs repaving after 20 years,” he said. “If there was a vendor fee, maybe that would offset the cost. We will repave it, and the events will continue to punch holes in it again. That’s part of the cost of doing business.”

Miller said the proposed Marlin Fest could be just the first of many special events at the 3rd Street park when it is redeveloped. The section to the west of St. Louis Avenue would be less developed and more passive. It includes a vast flexible lawn in the center surrounded by trees for pick-up sports and other events, a playground area, a spot for a pavilion or future temporary band stage for future special events and new restrooms for the entire complex. The recreational fishing areas along the bulkhead would also be retained.

“As the 3rd and 4th Street park is redeveloped, it will become a popular location for special events,” he said.

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.