UPDATED: OC Balloon Festival Canceled

OCEAN CITY– Resort tourism officials announced Monday the Ocean City Balloon Festival set for next week has been canceled.

While little information has been shared and tickets as of Monday were still on sale on the event’s website, Ocean City Tourism updated a Facebook post for the event stating that it had been canceled.

“Canceled: OC Balloon Fest- Aug. 25-27,” the post reads. “For any inquiries about the Ocean City Balloon Festival, kindly reach out to the event organizer.”

Hundreds of tickets were sold to the Ocean City Balloon Festival in the weeks leading up to the new event, which was approved by Ocean City officials in March. Though the festival, which was set to take place at Seaside Christian Academy, was being advertised online up until last week, a meeting last Wednesday revealed that numerous law enforcement and emergency personnel had concerns about the event. Zoning officials said limited information had been provided about the event. That concern was reiterated by Maryland State Police, representatives of the Maryland State Highway Administration and various emergency services officials.  One of the major issues cited was the fact that organizers hadn’t yet sought the necessary permits, which can be a lengthy process. Maryland State Police Lt. Earl Starner, commander of the Berlin Barrack, said typically event organizers met with agencies to discuss things like traffic and access months prior to an event. He indicated getting the needed approvals in a few weeks would be difficult.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible but there is a process,” Starner said. “You’re going to impact traffic in a negative way therefore you need an approved permit.”

Alex Spies of the American Farm Foundation, the event organizer, said it was a first-year event that would consist of some tethered hot air balloons with music and vendors. He said the event could attract 3,000 visitors to the West Ocean City location. He assured officials he would provide the various planning details they needed.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Spies was expected to meet with the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday to ask for a special exception that was needed for the event to be held. At that meeting, however, Zoning Administrator Kristen Tremblay said the request was tabled.

“The applicants will be working with the county and its partners on the items needed for approvals,” she said. “I do not know when the event will be rescheduled for.”

On Monday, however, Ocean City Tourism advised that the event had been canceled. At a meeting of the resort’s tourism commission Monday afternoon, Councilman Will Savage brought up the event and asked how the situation could have been handled better.

“What went wrong here?” he said. “It’s not a very pretty look for us.”

City Manager Terry McGean said the event’s organizers were required to get various permits from the county.

“I think the bottom line is when they came in, he was not as prepared as he should have been,” he said.

Tom Perlozzo, the director of tourism and business development for Ocean City, said the resort recruited events like the balloon festival and had liked the concept because it would have included a balloon glow on the beach. He said the promoter was advised what needed to be done for the event to occur.

“We don’t know if it got done or didn’t get done…,” Perlozzo said during the tourism commission meeting. “We just decided that at this point we are going to move on and look at it in 2024, potentially looking at having it here, inside.”

When asked if the 2024 event would be with the same promoter, Perlozzo said it was too early to say.

“That has yet to be seen,” he said. “We’d like to. He’s a good guy.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.