OCEAN CITY – Sunfest this year will be moved back to the third week in October to accommodate other special events stacked up in September, resort officials decided this week.
During a Tourism Commission meeting last week, members discussed the fall special events calendar with multiple significant events stacked up in mid- to late-September. Out of those discussions came a recommendation to move Sunfest, a sacred cow of sorts for decades on the September special events calendar, back to October 20-23 this fall.
On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council got the same essential presentation from Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo about the proposed summer, fall and winter events calendar, including a proposal to move Sunfest back to October. The council ultimately approved the proposed move, but not before a lengthy debate.
Special Events Director Frank Miller explained logistics issues precipitated the proposed move for Sunfest into October. OC BikeFest is scheduled for its usual slot in mid-September. New this year is another major fall special event brought forth by internationally known promoter C3 Presents, which is planning on bringing a major three-day music festival to the resort on September 23-25.
Although the details on the proposed C3 Presents event are not known, the promoter is known for the concerts, festivals and other events it produces. Wedged in there is the annual Wine Fest event, and there is always the often-troublesome unsanctioned pop-up motorized event during that same stretch. The C3 Presents event is meant to attract visitors to Ocean City and relieve some of the pressure from the unsanctioned pop-up event.
Then, there is Sunfest, which has taken place on the Inlet lot for decades. Miller said the logistics of setting up and tearing down Bike Week and the C3 Presents event made keeping Sunfest in its typical late September time slot challenging in terms of logistics. While Bike Week and the C3 Presents event will likely be able to share the same basic event footprint, Sunfest requires a 10-day window for setup, Miller said.
“We’re looking to move Sunfest back to October this year for a variety of reasons,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to stay moving forward.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said during last week’s tourism commission meeting he had concerns about logistics dictating the town’s fall special events calendar, including moving Sunfest, and reiterated his point on Tuesday.
“One thing is very important,” he said. “We shouldn’t let logistics, the setting up and tearing down of an event, dictate our special events calendar. That’s not what tourism is all about.”
Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Waters said there were advantages to moving Sunfest into October.
“When we were evaluating this, one of the things I looked at is we want to continue to market the offseason and the shoulder season,” she said. “There are some gaps in our events in October, which can be the best weather of the year. Sunfest has kind of been the anchor for the summer season before we roll into our fall events.”
Councilman Mark Paddack questioned if moving Sunfest would still ensure the success of the event in terms of vendors and visitors.
“In the past, we’ve talked about moving Sunfest so it didn’t coincide with the pop-up event,” he said. “A lot of the vendors plan a year out with other events in the region and some of our visitors make reservations long in advance. If we move it to October, will you be able to fill it and keep it a nationally-known event?”
Miller said he was confident moving the event would not change the demographics or the visitor numbers. Paddack then questioned if moving Sunfest ensured there would be enough city staff available to provide services and for the massive setup and tear-down for the event.
“Sunfest is a big event,” he said. “These special events require a lot of town services. Now that it’s stretching into October, we need to make sure we have the workforce still to be able to pull it off successfully.”
For his part, Mayor Rick Meehan said he liked the proposed move for Sunfest and said it would help balance the town’s crowded fall special event calendar.
“I think it’s a good recommendation,” he said. “It really provides an event every weekend in September and October.”
Meehan said Sunfest for a long time was somewhat a closure to the summer season, but times have changed over the years.
“If you look at the calendar and where we’ve come in 40 years, it was always the third week in September,” he said. “It was the anchor for the end of the season. Look how far we’ve grown.”
With that said, the council voted unanimously to approve the proposal to move Sunfest back to October 20-23 this fall.