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(Jan. 25, 2012) On the condition of a few measures to mitigate what has become an annual traffic problem, the City Council this week approved a memorandum of understanding with the OC BikeFest, which will return to the resort next Sept 12-15.

The council’s decision was made, apparently, in a closed-door meeting and announced publicly in the council’s open session on Tuesday. The terms of the memorandum were not discussed.

“They [council] have always been concerned about the crowds and the noise, because, naturally, they have to look out for the residents,” said festival organizer Cliff Sutherland.

“But I believe what’s happened, after having a solid two-year track record, is that the city’s feeling more comfortable about our management of the event … as well as recognizing the economic impact.”

Differing from its previous iterations, however, all of the festival’s entertainment will take place at the inlet, and the flagship vendors — many of whom bring tractor-trailers full of motorcycles and promotional merchandise — will be concentrated at the convention center.

Formerly, the event’s schedule had featured staggered concerts at both the inlet and convention center, allowing attendees to travel to one right after the other.

“Basically what it did was create traffic issues,” Sutherland said. “We don’t want to put them back on their bikes or in their cars to go down the street another 50 blocks to see the next event.”

Last year, Sutherland said, he left the inlet stage 40 minutes after the headliner – the Charlie Daniels’ Band – had finished its set. Even then, the road was still choked.

“It was two bikes wide all the way to the convention center and it took me another 40 minutes just to get there,” he said.

This year’s main acts will be Jackyl on Thursday, Fog Hat and WAR on Friday, and America and Three Dog Night on Saturday.

Entrance to the convention center vendor area will be free this year, while $25 tickets will still be sold for the inlet attractions and concerts. Those paying, however, will also get a wristband for complimentary bus service, both on the island and from the park-and-ride shuttle in West Ocean City.

Ironically, the goal is to accustom bikers to not riding their motorcycles once they arrive at the event. The idea is to encourage them to take their bikes for off-island sojourns instead, while using public transportation in town.

Anticipating event growth, Sutherland said, “we want to get them acclimated to taking that form of transportation in future years.”

The MOU also solidifies the event’s contribution to the city, to the tune of $110,000 for services rendered, mainly to offset the increased public safety presence as well as increased cleaning efforts by city public works staff.

However, Sutherland will no longer have to put down a $10,000 deposit for use of the venue tents, which the city rents for Sunfest and allows the OC Bike Fest to utilize. The issue caused some confusion last year, when Sutherland was called before the council the week of the event to put up the collateral.

“I do not have to pay the deposit in advance for that any more, but we are still responsible if something would happen to the tents, up to about $10,000,” Sutherland said.

The OC BikeFest has received a somewhat cool reception from the city’s elected officials in the past. Council consideration of Sutherland’s request to hold the inaugural festival in 2011 was postponed several times before being approved, allegedly an indication of the distaste for loud motorcycles held by the island’s year-round retirees, who hold significant voting power.

In the lead-up to the first event, Sutherland was almost denied the right to a lucrative Jack Daniel’s sponsorship – the same sponsorship held by the OC Air Show — because of council fears over the image of bikers with alcohol.

While allowing the event to take place on public grounds, the city has never actively sponsored the OC BikeFest as it has with some other big-draw events. While Sutherland pays the city $110,000, the city loans $50,000 annually to the air show, on an indefinite line of credit which the show’s organizers do not have to repay before the next year’s event.

The show is instead obligated to give 35 percent of its profits to the city, a sum of $19,902 for the 2012 event.

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