OC Tourism Commission To Take Up Fee Structure Issue

OCEAN CITY – Following up on a lengthy discussion that began at the Mayor and Council level last week, the Recreation and Parks Committee on Tuesday debated revisiting the fee structure for certain special events and sports tournaments.

Last week, the council unanimously approved a significant new sand soccer tournament proposed for August on the beach between Dorchester Street and 3rd Street. The beach sand soccer tournament has been a big success in Ocean City each summer for decades, drawing thousands of participants and spectators, but the event approved for August is a new event from the same promoter.

Before the council could vote on approving the event last week, however, Mayor Rick Meehan questioned if it was time to reconsider the town’s fee structure for special events.

While he strongly supported the beach sand soccer event in August, the mayor pointed out the tournament’s success has created what appears to be a wide gap in the amount of revenue the private promoter raises from the existing sand soccer tournament and the relatively low fees they pay to host the event on the beach in Ocean City.

Meehan said he crunched the numbers for the for-profit event. At an estimated 1,600 participants with 10 players per team, per the tournament’s registration form, that comes out to an estimated 650 teams.

The application fee per team is $500, meaning the tournament raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $325,000, according to the mayor’s estimation. The town’s fee for the private promoter for the August sand soccer tournament is $1,285.

While he strongly supported the event and praised its success, Meehan said it could be time to take a closer look at the town’s fee structure for special events, which haven’t been altered in years.

Last week, the council unanimously approved the August sand soccer tournament, pointing out the promoter had gone through the application process with the current fee in place.

However, the council also remanded the fee structure issue back to the Recreation and Parks Committee for further review to determine if there was room for growth.

The Recreation and Parks Committee briefly took up the fee structure issue this week at the close of their meeting on Tuesday. Last week, Meehan said the idea occurred to him after a tour of a recreation complex in Virginia Beach, where officials in that resort town hold their own beach sand soccer team and used the money raised to help fund other recreation programs.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Councilman and committee member Mark Paddack broached the fee structure issue.

“At our last meeting, the mayor brought up how the convention bureau in Virginia Beach is the promoter for their sand soccer tournament,” he said. “It was a discussion about fees versus income. He asked us to take a look at maybe some profit-sharing structure for our large tournaments with the revenue going to fund our recreation programs.”

Councilman and committee member John Gehrig said the mayor’s point was really more about the fee structure for special events in general.

“Rick’s question really was to take a closer look at the fees,” he said. “The promoter doesn’t want to be our partners. They want to be our customers.”

Gehrig emphasized the private sector promoter in this case was a partner with the town, each with its own responsibilities to the success of the event.

It should be noted the town shares in the tournament’s success through room nights and room tax generated by the thousands of participants and their families.

“We work together to provide a great experience for the participants,” he said. “They are our guests. They are not our partners.”

After considerable debate, Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito said fees for large special events and sports tournaments on the beach do not fall under her department’s purview.

The Recreation and Parks Department sets fees for its various camps and programs and the tournaments it hosts at Northside Park, for example.

“We look at recreation fees,” she said. “We don’t look at special event fees. That really doesn’t fall under our department.”

Petito suggested examining the fee structure issue for special events might be better considered by the special events department, which falls under the larger umbrella of the Director of Tourism and Business Development.

With that said, the Recreation and Parks Committee agreed to forward a discussion of the issue to the Tourism Commission.

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.