OCEAN CITY – A multi-faceted special event proposed for this September got the green light this week after concerns about a gun show element were allayed.
The Mayor and Council had before them on Tuesday a request to approve Ocean City Adventure Fest, proposed for the week of September 19-25, which would overlap with the often-troublesome unsanctioned pop-up event. Last October, promoter Cliff Sutherland, who has produced motorcycle events in Ocean City and in his native West Virginia in the past, pitched the concept of the special event to the Mayor and Council, who, at that time, directed staff and legal counsel to work through some of the details, particularly the proposed gun show element of the larger autumn hunting and fishing expo associated with Adventure Fest.
In the months since that meeting, Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo and Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino have been working with the promoter to iron out some of the details with the proposed Ocean City Adventure Fest, which would take place largely in and around the convention center. It would include police K-9 competitions and training, a police motorcycle rodeo in the parking lot, concerts at the Performing Arts Center and a hunting and fishing expo, including a gun show.
Sutherland, who owns a Harley Davidson dealership and a Greene Turtle franchise in his hometown of Morgantown, W.Va., has produced successful motorcycle rallies in Ocean City in the past and has hopes of building on that success with the series of events in the resort in September. On Tuesday, Perlozzo came back before the Mayor and Council with Sutherland seeking approval of Ocean City Adventure Fest after working through some of the challenges related to the proposed gun show with staff and City Solicitor Heather Stansbury.
“As you know, there is an unsanctioned pop-up event that week,” said Perlozzo. “The intent of this is to provide an additional police element in town. There is a police K-9 competition, a police motorcycle rodeo, two concerts and lastly, there is an autumn hunting and fishing expo, in your packet in parentheses, a gun show, which is the most controversial element.”
Ocean City Adventure Fest is the latest effort by Perlozzo and his staff to bring more people to the resort and diversify the town’s special events.
“Keep in mind, my job is to bring people into town,” he said. “We feel like this is a great opportunity, and we need some direction going forward. If it’s a no, it’s a no. If it’s a yes, what are the conditions he needs to comply with to move forward.”
Sutherland told the council he was seeking approval for the special event because the clock was ticking on making arrangements.
“It has been four months and I’m pretty deep in the weeds trying to book entertainment,” he said. “We really are getting up against the calendar.”
Sutherland acknowledged Ocean City was not a conventional location for a gun show, but pointed out there are strict state and federal laws to comply with as well as town ordinances.
“I recognize how Ocean City in not the place to have a gun show,” he said. “Maryland is probably the second or third toughest state with gun control laws. I’m not sure why we would need to supersede the third toughest gun control laws in the country.”
Sutherland explained the gun show element would be sub-contracted out to a company that produces nearly a hundred shows around the country and has been doing so for decades.
“We recognize doing a gun show is not in our wheelhouse, so we went out and found what we believe is the best company to be able to do that,” he said. “They do 92 shows a year and have been doing that for 50 years. They certainly understand all of the laws in all of the states.”
Stansbury said she has worked through most of the legal issues associated with hosting a gun show and was looking for some direction from the council to move it forward with approval of the event.
“This is supposed to be an expo-type show only,” she said. “Specifically, there would be no on-site gun sales. There is a way for Ocean City to have a gun show, but you can’t sell guns in the town because of the code. I don’t have the authority to amend the code without some direction from you. You don’t allow gun sales in the town. The code is very clear about that.”
City Manager Terry McGean said Perlozzo adeptly explained the proposed elements of the gun show, separating the handgun rules from the long gun rules.
“Mr. Perlozzo did a good job explaining you can’t have the sale of a handgun in town,” he said. “That cannot happen. During the presentation, it was stated no guns would change hands in Ocean City. They do intend to sell long guns at the show itself, but you can’t go into the show, purchase a long gun and walk out with it.”
Sutherland said the gun show promoter would strictly adhere to state and federal regulations. He said anyone that makes arrangements to purchase a gun during the show would complete the purchase at a licensed dealer with strict regulations in place.
“It’s a hunting and fishing show,” he said. “There are tough state and federal laws in place. The person running the show will make arrangements for people outside of Ocean City to go and pick up their long guns, whether it’s in Delaware or Pennsylvania of wherever with strict laws in place including the waiting period.”
Councilman John Gehrig said he was comfortable with the experienced gun show promoter in place.
“You have a partner with decades of experience,” he said. “The gun show piece is the emotional piece. If they have done 92 shows for over 50 years, I think the risk is low.”
Councilman Mark Paddack said he too was comfortable with the gun show presentation and the town’s ordinance prohibiting the sale or trade of certain weapons.
“Where in the ordinance does it prohibit a Second Amendment right?” he said. “I see an event with K-9 certified training, police motorcycles and a strong law enforcement presence. In Maryland, buying a long gun requires an FBI insta-check. There are multiple layers of restrictions. These are federally-licensed vendors and the federal government regulates these shows so tightly.”
Again, it’s important to note Ocean City Adventure Fest will fall roughly around the same time as the unsanctioned pop-up motorized event. In fact, part of the plan is for the special event participants to eat up much of the accommodations in town and make it more challenging for the pop-up event participants.
In recent years, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and its allied partners have made strides in curtailing some of the illegal activity associated with the pop-up event, particularly last year. The OCPD and its partners use the convention center lot for staging for the pop-up event. OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro on Tuesday was asked if his department had any concerns about the gun show element.
“We have some concerns,” he said. “We would prefer guns are not sold or traded in town. We are able to handle this event, as along as people do the right thing with firearms. If responsible people do the responsible thing, we won’t have any problems.”
Buzzuro was asked if he had any concerns about losing some of the staging area at the convention center during the pop-up event.
“We have assets at the convention center that weekend,” he said. “This would cause us to move those assets somewhere else.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said he wouldn’t want to see anything disrupt the progress law enforcement has made with the pop-up event recently.
“The OCPD and our allied agencies have made great strides in curtailing some of the illegal activity,” he said. “That needs to continue. Also, there will be a special event zone throughout the town that week, so you need to make sure your participants are aware of that and all that entails.”
With that said, the council voted 5-1 with Councilman Peter Buas opposed and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca absent to approve Ocean City Adventure Fest and the associated gun show.