City Council Signs Off On Inlet Location For Marlin Fest

OCEAN CITY — After a two-year stint at the downtown 3rd Street park, Marlin Fest, the spinoff event associated with the White Marlin Open, is moving to the Inlet this August after resort officials signed off on the event this week.

In August 2020, amid pandemic distancing requirements and gathering size restrictions, White Marlin Open (WMO) producers created a modified plan to open a venue for spectators at the downtown recreation complex between 3rd and 4th streets on the bayside. The downtown venue included a large LED screen streaming the weigh-ins from traditional host Harbour Island along with waterfront areas along the bay from which spectators could watch the boats returning to the scales and other amenities.

Last August, with COVID restrictions eased, WMO officials brought back a more-formalized edition of Marlin Fest at the 3rd Street park with the same LED screen concept for watching the weigh-ins along with vendors, food sales, alcoholic beverage sales and other amenities as a satellite location from which to enjoy the tournament.

However, the town is in the process of redeveloping the downtown recreation complex with a multi-phased project and the area that has hosted Marlin Fest the last two years might not be entirely available. To that end, WMO officials in November pitched the idea of moving Marlin Fest to the Inlet parking lot and a portion of the beach and the Mayor and Council endorsed the concept, although there were many details still to be worked out through a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU).

On Monday, the Mayor and Council had before them an addendum to the preliminary agreement with the WMO, laying out some more of the details of the proposal. The Marlin Fest addendum was included in the Mayor and Council’s consent agenda. Typically, items on the consent agenda are approved as a matter of course with little or no broader discussion, and that was the case for the most part on Monday.

The Marlin Fest event at the Inlet will include a large LED screen facing west that will allow spectators to view the weigh-ins from Harbour Island against the backdrop of the Inlet and the ocean as boats return to the scales at 14th Street. There will also entertainment, sponsor and vendor tents, WMO and Marlin Fest retail tents along with food and beverage sales including liquor, beer and wine.

With the proposed layout, a total of 169 Inlet parking lot spaces would be impacted during the five-day event, or roughly 14% of the Inlet lot spaces. The promoter has agreed to reimburse the town for the lost Inlet parking lot revenue during the event, estimated at nearly $2,900. The council ultimately voted 5-0 with Councilmen Lloyd Martin and Mark Paddack absent to approve the Marlin Fest addendum as part of the consent agenda, but not before Councilman John Gehrig raised some questions about the parking revenue agreement.

“I do have questions about the parking lot for Marlin Fest,” he said. “I know the promoter is going to pay for the parking revenue. Are those spots closed just during the event, or for the entire 24 hours?”

Special Events Director Frank Miller explained the parking revenue was calculated based on the hours of the event. Gehrig then questioned if moving Marlin Fest to the Inlet this year was a one-time occasion.

“I’m a huge fan and supporter,” he said. “Is this a one-year thing? It’s not just the revenue from the parking spots. It’s the revenue for the businesses whose customers use those spaces. Has there been a conversation about that? Do we know if this is going to be a persistent thing?”

Miller said in his conversations with WMO officials, the plan all along has been to move Marlin Fest back to the 3rd Street park when the renovations and redevelopment work are completed. The section of the park complex closest to the bay is part of the first phase of the redevelopment plan and will include lots of open space and vistas of the bay and the boats coming in, so the expectation is Marlin Fest could return to the park at some point. However, if the Inlet lot version is successful, there could be decision pending about the future location of the event.

“We’re going to see how it goes this year,” he said. “Their plan initially was to hold Marlin Fest at 3rd Street again once that is completed and they see that new venue. They may very well go back regardless if they have a successful year at the Inlet parking lot. There are so many variables on the table at the moment.”

Marlin Fest is set for the week of the WMO, Monday, Aug. 8 to Friday, Aug. 12. Marlin Fest is proposed to complement the annual tournament at Harbour Island and provide an alternative for attendees throughout the week. Many guests chose last year to visit Harbour Island headquarters one day and Marlin Fest on a different day to enjoy both experiences.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

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.