Annoying? But profitable

Annoying? But profitable

(Sept. 26, 2014) For most area residents, the distinct sound of the H2O International rolling into town this week is somewhere between a Whoopee Cushion and a bagpiper with a respiratory infection.

But for an increasing number of local businesses, the VW- and Audi-centric car show is the sound of cash hitting the drawer.

And for the Ocean City Police Department, it’s the crisp sound of traffic violations being torn out of ticket books.

“I know a lot of people don’t like it and the town officials want to keep their distance,” said Jeff Burton, General Manager of the 45th Street Village, whose parking lot has long been a de-facto congregation during the week leading up to the show.

“But I think this year is the start of us [the business community] trying to organize this event,” Burton said. “I’m trying to use it to build my business up, rather than just having them sit and take up all my parking.”

The show – known to enthusiasts as the H2Oi – will take place this weekend at the Fort Whaley Campground, the third iteration of the show to take place in Whaleyville and the 15th year for the show in Worcester County.

For nearly as many years, and again in 2014, Ocean City officials have stressed that they have no formal control over the event itself – even though the vast majority of participants sleep, eat, and cruise the highway in town – and have treated the show with what is best described as skeptical optimism.

“The event, even though it’s not sanctioned by the city or organized in any way throughout town, certainly brings in a tremendous amount of people,” said Susan Jones, Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

“We have a fair number of places – breakfast place, pizza places – that are expecting a big weekend from the event,” Jones said.

The H2Oi is expected to again see about 17,000 to 18,000 attendees, according to show organizer Jay Shoup. But judging by the city’s demoflush numbers – which estimate population based on wastewater usage – many more people come into town just to hang out and cruise, and never even head out to Fort Whaley.

On the Saturday of the H2Oi last year, the city estimated 164,206 people in town. For comparison, OC BikeFest drew 202,275 on a Saturday last year, and Cruisin’ 181,021.

The fact that the H2Oi is nearly as big as the resort’s flagship automotive events, but isn’t centralized within town, creates a headache for many property owners who find attendees loitering and setting up impromptu car shows in their parking lots.

This year, the Ocean City Police Department has re-introduced the Trespass Enforcement Authorization Program, which allows property owners to sign an affidavit authorizing police to enter their property on suspicion of trespassers, and take appropriate enforcement action. The TEAP initiative was specifically targeted at H2Oi.

But for some businessmen, such as Burton, it’s an opportunity for a pivotal late-September shot of revenue.

“We’ve had them in our parking lot for the last two years, but it wasn’t organized. It turned into kind of a free-for-all,” Burton said. “I’ve never had any altercations with them or anything, there’s been no problem there, but it’s just the sheer mass of them.”

This year, the 45th Street Village – which contains four restaurants owned by Sunsations founder Avi Sibony – will be charging for long-term parking. One day will be $20, two will be $30, and three will be $40, starting Thursday, Burton said.

Parking will also come with 20 percent off food and beverages at the restaurants. Staff are also working to organize vendor exhibits and activities.

“I’ve gotten some negative feedback from people, but also a lot of positive,” Burton said. “We police it well. I have a dozen security guys just for this. We don’t let them drink in the parking lot as best we can.”

But offenses such as open container violations pale in comparison to traffic citations.

According to OCPD data, officers conducted 1,245 traffic stops from Thursday, Sept. 26 to Sunday, Sept. 29 for the 2013 H2Oi. This is 62.5 percent more traffic enforcement than the 766 stops done over the same span in 2012. For comparison, Bike Week last year saw 825 stops.

Critically, cars arriving for the H2Oi are extremely prone to violations of the state’s vehicle code. While many modifications – such as extremely low suspensions – may be on-trend for show participants, they aren’t seen as admirably in the eyes of the law.

“One of the biggest things we are looking at again this year is excessive camber,” said OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay O’Neal. “That is our biggest issue, again, because it is so unsafe and unfortunately very prevalent with this crowd.

“Camber” refers to the angle of a vehicle’s tires relative to a perfect vertical plane. Most cars, with their suspension at rest, have no perceptible camber angle. But installing shorter shock absorbers in a car not made for them will pivot the wheels up via the joints that connect them to the vehicle’s axle, creating what is known as “negative camber,” something which is plainly visible when traveling behind a car whose tires appear to be flared out at an extreme angle.

While negative camber can provide better handling on tight corners, the fact that the car is riding only on the inside edges of the tires, and not their complete contact surface, reduces straight-line traction and the likelihood of skids.

The OCPD has been known to stop vehicles, and even have them towed, if officers believe the vehicle is unfit for the road under the Maryland’s prohibition on “excessive camber.”

Cars lowered to this extent also typically violate Maryland’s 24-inch minimum for headlight height above the surface of the road.

But despite the problems with the vehicles themselves, the H2Oi participants are still spending money in town, and not causing many serious problems, at least comparatively. Last year’s H2Oi had 54 arrests, including 10 DUIs. But while Bike Week had slightly less arrests, 51, 18 of those were DUIs.

“I really would like to talk to the town and some of the other businesses for next year, and ask how we can make this event more a part of us,” Burton said. “They may say ‘we don’t want it,’ but I think this is a big opportunity.”

 

One of many cars pulled over during the week of the H2O International for “excessive camber” of the wheels.

6 Comments on this Post

  1. Enrigue Iglesias

    How can put of state vehicles be in violation of Marlylamd, specifically OC traffic laws? What OCPD is doing is illegal.

    Reply
  2. The point of kids hanging out in the lots. Most of these are known as get togethers, not so much a mini show. Most of the better organized groups have made deals with the businesses /chruches in forms of donations to the facility to park and meet with the small groups. Although it sucks to pay to park in their lots…. I think if the small groups that actually wantged to meet organized better then the businesses they overrun, it could be enjoyable and profitable for all parties.

    If you break down the violations, most of the cars getting tagged arent even those part of the “VW AUDI :” croowd. Its the random subaru, toyota, honda, etc crowd that ome to jsut hangout and cruise Coastal.

    Reply
  3. It seems to me that hating on “Camber” has now risen to really ridiculous hating levels since reports always state “not unsafe” with no actual evidence to back such claims, just theories. Now one may not like cars with excessive camber but to single them out will do more harm than good in the long run. And its not like these cambered cars are out going 100mph, most are just cruising around at speed limits or even below them.

    I would personally rather them spend the time giving 18 wheelers and other cars driving around with broken headlights, worn tires that look like slicks and other hazards more proven to cause incidents and accidents.

    In an age where all the data shows the youth are less enthusiastic about cars, I would think businesses would welcome these people that travel, spend money on gas, food, etc and help stimulate local economies. 17,000-18,000 attendees are bringing MILLIONS of revenue in this town for a weekend. We should be encouraging young car enthusiasts, not adding another hurdle in their life.

    And whats funny is I am not a huge fan of excessive camber but I find these agencies targeting these car enthusiasts in poor taste.

    Reply
  4. It’s amazing how one-sided this article is. You can find the other side of the 45th street subject at: morethanmore.com/the-truth-behind-boycott45thst/

    Reply
  5. Nicholas

    The negative camber is not achevied by shorter shocks. It is achevied by camber shims and/or control arm adjustments. If you are going to write an article then do proper research.

    Reply
  6. Great! It made money for the chosen few but the rest of the residents in this part of the county had to put up with the mess. The noise, the hazards of driving on the roads and did I mention the noise? The punks on the tricked up little bikes.
    Some made money but when does the welcome matt for this or any other group that rigs their vehicles up to make the most noise possible get taken up? Why do they have the right to disrupt our lives? Because they bring the few that make money we, the silent majority have to endure. We have rights to. When does the Peace count?
    And to the comment about the cops busting on working vehicles, they do. We have the DOT guys making life miserable for commercial drivers, take the blinders off.

    Reply

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