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Future of 2020 Ocean City Sunfest Uncertain

The 46th Annual Sunfest, which usually features concerts, local artists, and vendors at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and the Inlet Parking Lot, is still scheduled to take place October 1-4  However, with less than two months until the start of the extensive fall festival, the logistics remain uncertain due to the ongoing pandemic.

During the Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, Special Events Director Frank Miller said that the town needs to make a decision as soon as possible about whether the event will move forward. “We are at a fork in the road,” said Miller.

Miller presented a slideshow outlining several changes that could be made to the festival to comply with public health guidelines. If the event is given the all-clear, there will not be headliners, capacity will be reduced to 50%, face coverings are mandatory, and there will be contact tracing efforts. Another challenge is that visitors from New York, New Jersey, and other states would be forced to quarantine after traveling to Maryland. Miller also pointed out that according to public health guidelines, tents are not always considered to be outdoors, so modifications will need to be made.

The layout of Sunfest has also been altered to include fewer tables inside tents and to remove the large stage where headliners typically perform.

Currently, Miller said there is a 50-50 split amongst the public over whether the event should occur. Vendors, local artists, and the business community are encouraging the town to hold Sunfest, but Miller reminded members of the council that if they allow the festival to occur, it will not come without some backlash. “The mainstream media is criticizing large public events…We know if we do propose producing this event, we’re going to be under scrutiny,” said Miller. He also doubts that the festival will attract as many older visitors as in previous years since they are more at risk of becoming ill from Covid-19.

Without three large concerts and major headliners, the town is indeed going to suffer financially. Ticket sales from the three shows would have amounted to $142,000, and advertising would have added another $14,700. Miller also predicts declines in revenue from vendor booth rentals and alcohol sales.

Miller then pointed out that the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach and the Yellow Daisy Festival in Georgia, which occur around the same time as Sunfest, have both been canceled.

Each member of the council is hopeful that Sunfest will be held in October, however, if planning for Sunfest does indeed move forward and something goes wrong, they are worried that the town could lose a significant amount of money. Tents will cost about $104,000, and according to Miller, in total, the town will invest about “$140,000 easy.”

Councilmember John Gehrig wants to see the event to happen, but said, “It’s almost like we’re gambling here.” Officials are nervous that they could be forced to cancel Sunfest a couple of weeks beforehand and that it will be too late to get their money back. Councilmember Dennis Dare is also weary to send out contracts to vendors without a guarantee that Sunfest will occur. Officials do not want to end up holding money from vendors.

Following these remarks, it was decided that Miller will contact the company responsible for supplying and setting up the tents about their policies regarding Covid-19-related cancellations. He will also speak with vendors and the business community about their thoughts on the event moving forward.

After Miller consults with those groups and has more information, he will provide an update to the council on August 11. Then, the town hopes to make an official decision on whether planning for Sunfest will move forward or not.

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