OCEAN CITY — With the calendar flipping over to 2022, resort tourism officials this week received an informal presentation on some of the recurring special events for the coming year along with a few new wrinkles.
TEAM Productions’ Bob Rothermel on Monday presented his proposed lineup of value-added special events for the coming season, along with a series of proposed off-Broadway-style shows at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) next fall and winter to bolster the off-season. Each year, Rothermel and TEAM Productions produces a wide variety of value-added special events for the town including fireworks and drone shows and concerts on the beach.
During Monday’s Tourism Commission meeting, Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo said a more formal presentation on the proposed special events with dates and funding was coming, but for now, he and Rothermel were looking for some direction from the commission.
“We’re hoping for some direction with the calendar,” he said. “We need to get out in front for the summer. We need to see where everybody stands for 2022.”
Perlozzo said an exciting new wrinkle proposed for next offseason in conjunction with TEAM Productions was a plan to bring Broadway-style shows, concerts, comedians and other acts to the PAC.
“We’re going to suggest spending some money in the offseason,” he said. “We’ve been working with Bob to bring 10 to 11 shows to the Performing Arts Center. We could have bus tours. We have a bunch of ideas.”
Perlozzo said the funding needed to attract the shows at the PAC could come from a variety of sources, including Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) funding.
“We can fund it with a portion of the TAB funding, or a portion of the convention center funding,” he said. “We can probably have 25 more event-days in the winter from September to April. We can promote as Broadway at the Beach or something like that.”
Rothermel said he has had cursory discussions with some of the shows and acts proposed for the PAC next offseason, but he was waiting on some direction from the commission, and ultimately the Mayor and Council before pulling the trigger.
“We’re talking about Broadway shows like Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, maybe a Peppa the Pig children’s show, a couple of comedians,” he said. “They are all on hold waiting. I just need some direction.”
Rothermel said the recent coronavirus uptick is wreaking havoc with the schedule for some shows that attract live audiences.
“The big issue is the pandemic with shows getting shut down,” he said. “Some of the shows can’t find crews to work. It’s a cluster. One of the shows in the packet cancelled performances because members of the cast and staff members tested positive.”
Perlozzo said the proposed dates and times for the shows at the PAC were forthcoming.
“We can come back with a formal presentation,” he said. “We just want to make sure you’re comfortable with what we’ve done in the past. We’ll come back with some funding recommendations.”
Before narrowing down plans for next offseason at the PAC, however, the commission got a briefing on some of the value-added special events planned for next summer. For example, plans are moving forward for bringing the giant American flag back to the beach downtown on Memorial Day weekend, along with weekly drone shows and some limited fireworks shows.
Last summer, elaborate drone shows replaced the weekly fireworks shows downtown at the Boardwalk and uptown at the weekly Sundaes in the Park event at Northside Park. There were still fireworks scheduled on the Fourth of July. However, the show did not go off as planned when one of the explosives inadvertently detonated during setup.
Rothermel said the drone shows downtown and at Sundaes in the Park were well-received last year and plans are to bring them back this summer.
“I thought the presentations went well,” he said. “I went to almost every one of the shows and the comments I heard from people walking away were phenomenal on the drone shows.”
Rothermel last year pitched a two-year commitment for the drone shows, but resort officials were reluctant to commit to two years until they were certain how the public would respond. With a plan to bring them back this year, Rothermel said it might be time to ramp up the quality and scope of the drone shows.
“What we did last year was the bargain basement price,” he said. “We presented it as a two-year deal, but there was some angst about committing for two years. I’d like to do 25 shows this year.”
Nonetheless, Rothermel said he has not abandoned the idea of bringing some fireworks shows back to the north end of town.
“I’d like to think about bringing some fireworks back to Northside Park,” he said. “Maybe we can move the drone shows downtown, and maybe put 20 of them at the Boardwalk and split them up.”
Councilman and commission member John Gehrig agreed with returning some fireworks shows to Northside Park, but questioned the overall philosophy of the free-added value special events for visitors.
“I think we need fireworks at Northside Park for Sundaes in the Park,” he said. “I think we need a purpose for these summer shows. If we’re going to continue to do these value-added events, I think they’re a ‘nice to have,’ but I don’t think they are bringing people to town.”
However, Rothermel said he believed the value-added events did bring visitors to town and enhance their overall experience.
“I disagree,” he said. “I do think they bring people to town and they serve a purpose.”
Gehrig said the town had two basic visitor demographics and suggested targeting the latter.
“We basically have two groups of visitors,” he said. “We have a group that comes from far away as evidenced by the license plates from Ohio, for example. We also have a lot of weekend warriors.”
Two years ago, a plan was hatched to schedule special events such as concerts and fireworks, for example, on Thursdays in an effort to extend the stay for those ‘weekend warriors.’ Then, COVID hit and some of those ideas were put on the back-burner. Gehrig suggested going after that Thursday crowd again.
“Now we’re in 2022,” he said. “Let’s take the plunge. We don’t need to have value-added events and we don’t need to give anything away. Let’s make the weekend our wheelhouse. When you think of Ocean City, you think of the weekend.”
Perlozzo said the commission, and the full Mayor and Council, would soon get a more formal presentation.
“These are just ideas,” he said. “We’ll put together an overall plan. We just want to get some of these things on the calendar and start making some offers because it’s competitive. I feel like we’re two months behind already. We just need some direction.”