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Ocean City

Fall events pile up on each other

(Nov. 14, 2014) Get ready for a full fall of ’15. The city council approved a tentative schedule of city-run special events for the 2015 and 2016 seasons this week, revealing that the fall shoulder season is becoming almost as much of a special event squeeze as June has been for the past several years.

Fall of 2015 will include two new city-backed events, according to city Special Events Director Frank Miller.

Not only that, but the calendar of publicly-operated events must also be carefully tuned around the anticipated dates of the city’s major private events – and even though it does not take place in town, 2015’s pivotal blackout date is shaping up to be the H2O International.

According to Miller, the city will be expanding and supporting the 2015 iteration of OCtoberfest, a series of Halloween-oriented events that has, until now, been privately organized through local outfit T.E.A.M. Productions, but heavily subsidized via the city-backed Tourism Advisory Board.

“What we are doing as a town is starting up an official event, hopefully keeping the name OCtoberfest,” Miller said. Next year’s festival could include a number of additional features, such as a Boardwalk haunted house.

“The town has expressed an interest in what our original vision was, which was to umbrella market all these events,” said Bob Rothermel of T.E.A.M. Productions. “We would still be doing what we have been doing, but under a larger tent.”

This year’s OCtoberfest, featuring a beach maze, pumpkin races, and other attractions, drew record fall crowds. Next year’s event is scheduled for Oct. 17-25, 2015.

Miller also noted that the town is looking at a separate fall event oriented toward “an older crowd,” to be called Prime Timers Week, from Oct. 12-15, 2015. Details will be upcoming.

Critically, next year’s Sunfest was approved for Sept. 24-27, 2015. Sunfest is typically held the third weekend after Labor Day, which falls late next year on Sept. 7, 2015.

However, the H2O International VW and Audi car show is held at Fort Whaley Campground the last weekend in September. This would be the first time since 2011 that the two events coincided – something that none of the parties involved would prefer.

“We haven’t gone under contract yet,” said H2O organizer Jay Shoup. “At this point it’s still up in the air. We’re not 100 percent certain of the date, but it will be at Fort Whaley again. We’ve got everything pretty much locked in logistically.”

Apparently, although it has no formal influence over events which take place outside the city limits, Ocean City officials have been lobbying to prevent Sunfest and H2O from overlapping.

“I’ve had a discussion with the owner out at Fort Whaley about our concerns,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think we all know it’s in no one’s interest to have the two events together. They’re like oil and water. But my understanding is that we’ll be okay.”

If as, expected, H2O does move from the last weekend in September, the question would then be where it will move to. The weekends before and after Sunfest 2015 are slated for OC BikeFest, and Wine on the Beach, respectively, and the second weekend in October is Endless Summer Cruisin’.

As with most all of the resort’s motor-related events, the H2O International has become an increasing enforcement concern as it has grown. This past year’s event seemed to have reached a fever pitch, with 51 arrests and 43 traffic collisions from Sept. 25-28, 2014, according to the Ocean City Police Department.

But many of the complaints from locals and non-event visitors stemmed from the spectators – hordes of hangers-on who line the sidewalks and vacant resort parking lots, throwing trash, shouting rude things, and obstructing the roadways while trying to take photos and videos of passing cars. A police horse was assaulted twice by two different men in the same night during the event this year, amongst other bizarre crimes.

Although the event itself takes place in Whaleyville, most participants stay in the resort. Many spectators do not even go to the show, which is a Saturday- and Sunday-only event and brings about 18,000 through the gate at Fort Whaley over the two days, Shoup said.

Like many of his long-time attendees, Shoup is keenly aware of the problem and willing to help the city address it.

“We can’t control who comes in and out of town,” Shoup said. “They catch wind of a good event, and piggyback on top of it, unfortunately for the rest of us.

“I can’t really pinpoint who the riff-raff or troublemakers are – I don’t’ even go into Ocean City on the show weekend,” he continued. “My focus is on Fort Whaley alone. A lot of the older guys, myself included, have voiced our concerns. Has the vibe changed with the amount of troublemakers in Ocean City? Absolutely.”

The OCPD has already indicated that next year’s H2O International, regardless of the date, will see new enforcement strategies. Despite complaints of excessive traffic enforcement from some H2O attendees, Shoup said he’s always appreciated the law enforcement presence.

“My core clientele will always come to the show,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to die out. If somebody does something wrong, write them a ticket. I don’t want them here. They’re not part of what I try to bring. We had no issues – not one – at Fort Whaley.”

More than ever, Shoup said he has been broadcasting messages of self-enforcement to attendees, particularly encouraging the older car enthusiasts to discourage ill-behavior by younger hangers-on.

“We have to be proactive about it,” Shoup said. “We need to bring back the grassroots vibe that this event used to have.”

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