OCEAN CITY — There will be fireworks on New Year’s Eve uptown at Northside Park after all as resort officials this week approved a modified plan from a separate promoter to approve the show.
Last month, council approved a contract with Celebrations Fireworks to provide the popular pyrotechnic displays at Northside Park uptown on the Fourth of July and at the Inlet on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve for the next three years. Celebrations Fireworks was one of three bidders for the contract, but the only one who bid on all three years.
One company did submit a bid for three years, but only for the New Year’s Eve show only, while another company only bid for fiscal year 2023 and not the entire three years desired by the town. The budgeted amount for a single year was $108,000 for three displays in 2023. Celebrations Fireworks’ bid for the entire three years was $357,000, or $116,000 in the first two years and $125,000 in the third year.
However, one casualty of the new contract was a proposed fireworks show on New Year’s Eve at Northside Park to close Winterfest of Lights and the end of 2022. As a result, the only New Year’s Eve fireworks show planned for later this month was at the beach downtown near the Inlet with drive-in movies, a DJ and other events to draw people into the downtown area on the holiday.
Fireworks vendors have had some reservations about shooting the displays from the long pier at the west end of Northside Park for variety of reasons. Complicating the issue for Northside Park is the fact Winterfest of Lights would not be over until just before the proposed fireworks show, making the soccer field or other open areas unavailable. The six-inch shells used by the approved vendor would require a 600-foot radius, which would not be possible with Winterfest still winding down.
Losing the uptown New Year’s Eve show at Northside Park did not entirely sit well with some on the council when the three-year contract with Celebrations Fireworks was approved last month. During Monday’s meeting, a resident raised concern during the public comment period the north-end New Year’s Eve fireworks were not being held this because of budget concerns. She said many in the highly residential north-end communities had expressed the same concerns.
City Manager Terry McGean explained the uptown fireworks show was not cut due to budget concerns, but rather with logistic issues related to the ongoing Winterfest of Lights.
“This issue didn’t have anything to do with the budget,” he said. “The only vendor did not want to shoot from the pier. We could make that work at Northside Park for the Fourth of July because Winterfest of Lights wasn’t going on.”
However, a possible solution presented itself on Monday after the local resident voiced her concerns. While Celebrations will not produce a fireworks show at Northside Park on New Year’s Eve, local promoter Bob Rothermel and TEAM Productions, which produces the fireworks shows at Sundaes in the Park throughout the summer, has presented a plan to shoot from the pier at Northside Park and not cause any modifications to Winterfest, according to Mayor Rick Meehan.
“There wasn’t anyone who bid who would do the New Year’s Eve display uptown because they didn’t want to shoot from the pier,” he said. “However, we do have a promoter in town that does every Sunday in the summer for Sundaes in the Park, and he has assured us there is a way to do it from the pier. It is possible to do it.”
McGean explained the total estimate for producing a New Year’s Eve fireworks show later this month was an estimated $16,000 for the promoter, along with another $1,500 in costs associated with Winterfest of Lights. He said there was room in the budget to pull it off if that is what the elected officials desired.
“I think it’s something we can provide to the residents and visitors uptown,” he said. “It’s doable if the council has a will to do it. It would be something for the residents, something for the kids and the people uptown.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca made a motion to approve an expenditure up to $20,000 to provide a New Year’s Even fireworks show at Northside Park. The plan is to keep Winterfest of Lights open until 11:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve as usual, and by shooting the modified fireworks show from the pier, no modifications would be required for Winterfest.
Councilman John Gehrig questioned if there was any conflict with approving a New Year’s Eve show uptown with the three-year contract approved with Celebrations last month.
“Will this impact the contract we already approved?” he said. “If we’re trying to build something downtown, are we carving up the market too much? I’m all for fireworks. I just don’t know if we’ll have enough people here to support two events.”
Meehan said the Northside Park fireworks on New Year’s Eve had a proven track record of drawing big crowds, not only at the park, but from decks, and back porches and hotel balconies all over the north end.
“Going back to 2017 and 2018 when we used to do this, we kept Winterfest open late for New Year’s Eve fireworks,” he said. “There were huge crowds. We had families out there waiting for the New Year’s Eve fireworks.”
Meanwhile, the downtown New Year’s Eve fireworks at the Inlet will include other amenities for residents and visitors including drive-in movies in the lead up to the show along with a disc jockey to emcee the events. McGean said the plan was to provide events to draw visitors and residents to the downtown area early and keep them there for the fireworks show at midnight.
“The concern was just to have fireworks downtown at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “You’d have to have something else. That’s how they came up with the drive-in movies and the DJ at the Inlet.”
Meehan reiterated he believed adding the New Year’s Eve fireworks show at Northside Park was the right thing to do.
“I think Winterfest will be a winner,” he said. “It has been in the past. There are a lot of people that live south of 62nd Street that don’t go uptown. I think this will give them an alternative. I’m in favor of doing both shows. I think we can give it a try for this year, and I think we’ll be surprised.”
The council voted 6-0 with Councilman Peter Buas absent to approve the modified plan for fireworks uptown on New Year’s Eve with a cost not to exceed the estimated $17,500.