Ocean City Council Approves Boardwalk Digital Signs

Ocean City Council Approves Boardwalk Digital Signs
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week agreed to install 28 new digital message signs on the Boardwalk, but not before a lengthy discussion on visual clutter.

On Monday, the Mayor and Council had before them a request from town’s tourism department to purchase and install 14 double-sided, or 28, variable message signs (VMS) along the Boardwalk. Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo said the total cost of $549,815 would be paid for with dedicated advertising funds.

“We already know 70% of the people that vacation here venture to the Boardwalk,” he said. “So it’s an excellent opportunity to take advantage of that.”

Currently, the Boardwalk features four VMS signs at Worcester, North Division, 9th and 15th streets. Instead of simply replacing the signs, the tourism department recommended new, high-resolution displays be installed at 14 locations along the Boardwalk at existing Crown Castle poles.

During Monday’s council meeting, Perlozzo said the purchase of new VMS signs would allow the tourism department to not only share emergency messaging but promote Ocean City events and businesses.

“It gives us the opportunity to get some eyeballs on the things we’re doing,” he said.

Perlozzo told officials the tourism department had explored different sign manufacturers. He said Peerless Outdoor Display was selected, and that the signs would be purchased through the Sourcewell Purchasing Co-Op, which gives the town the best pricing.

The total cost of the project, $549,815, would be paid from the town’s advertising funds and any revenue collected from the displays would be credited back to the advertising fund.

“We would recommend using the $549,000 to purchase the 28 screens and start that process as we move forward,” Perlozzo said.

Councilman Frank Knight questioned the size of the displays. Perlozzo said they were 75-inch TVs. He noted that the screens had also undergone testing to ensure durability along the Boardwalk.

“We actually built a dummy screen to make sure you could travel underneath them and it was visible enough to provide our messaging in a proper fashion,” he added.

While he said he supported advertising the town and its events, Knight questioned the need for placing the signs at 14 locations.

“There’s been complaints about signs on the Boardwalk,” he said. “We’ll have eight trams with message boards on them, plus 28 screens here. It just seems like a lot of visual stuff on the Boardwalk. I’m all for advertising and putting these message boards out there, it just seems like 36 is a lot of screens.”

Perlozzo acknowledged Knight’s concerns, but noted there were opportunities to address signage on the Boardwalk.

“There’s all different sizes, no uniformity, you don’t know where to look, what to do,” he said. “This is possibly an opportunity to revisit what we have and clean it up.”

Knight said he would support the tourism department’s request, so long as staff committed to removing some signage.

“I’d at least like to see us move in that direction,” he said.

City Manager Terry McGean said he was hoping to address the issue in next year’s budget.

“I would like to get it in the budget for next year to bring a consultant in to look at the entire sign system on the Boardwalk and try to consolidate,” he replied. “We have a lot of different styles with a lot of different messages. I think going forward we need to really take a holistic look at all the regulatory signs and information signs out there and try and come up with a cleaner, more consistent way of doing it.”

McGean noted, however, that the new VMS displays would prioritize emergency messages.

“The number one priority will be, if we have a storm or emergency message, they’ll be used for that,” he said. “The number two priority would be these are the events that are coming … Also, it could be used for advertising.”

Council President Matt James said he was concerned with the light the signs would project onto the Boardwalk.

“I’d like to make sure the signs are angled away from the residential units,” he said.

Perlozzo said it was something the tourism department could explore.

“We would be able to program these,” he said. “The idea would be 7 o’clock in the morning to maybe 10 or 11 at night.”

Knight also suggested that fewer signs be placed along the northern sections of the Boardwalk.

“Perhaps on the north end, above 18th, maybe there would be fewer per block,” he said.

After further discussion, the council voted 6-1, with Councilman Peter Buas opposed, to authorize the installation of 14 double-sided, full-color Peerless displays on the Boardwalk at a total cost of $549,815 to be paid with dedicated advertising funds.

“I just think it’s too much visual stimulation out there,” Buas said. “I might be in the minority, and I’m okay with placing them, I just don’t want to clutter the Boardwalk with 14 more locations.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.