The Ocean City Council tabled the difficult decision to postpone Sunfest to 2021 during their work session on Tuesday. The council also put off a decision to sponsor a smaller event, dubbed SunLITE. Both issues are now on the agenda for the August 17 meeting.
Sunfest – Event Review
Special Events Director Frank Miller presented a detailed PowerPoint that featured all the changes required for Sunfest to occur along with the results of a survey of vendors.
If the council decides to allow the 46th Annual Sunfest to occur, it would certainly not be anything like the festival that visitors have come to know over the last four decades. There would be no headliners or live music whatsoever. There is also no guarantee that food tents would be allowed due to public health guidelines from the state.
Miller said that the loss of these key pieces of the festival would reduce interest and attendance. He estimated that 40% of the festival’s draw comes from the music component, while 20% comes from food. He also expressed concerns over losing the baby boomer demographic due to health concerns.
Miller also provided an update from Select Events, the company responsible for providing tents. On August 3, Miller said that tents would cost about $104,000. While that number has dropped to $84,000, Miller said that it is still not a desirable pricing model since there is no guarantee that the festival can occur.
Next, Miller revealed results from a survey of 157 vendors who typically take part in Sunfest. The results showed that 38% of vendors question whether they would participate, while 54% want to come and feel comfortable doing so. However, among the group that says they feel comfortable attending, 13% are actually more concerned about losing their spot in future festivals. Another issue that arises is interstate travel. Vendors come from 22 different states, 24% of which have travel restrictions.
Of course, optics are also a major factor. “Do we really want to force this event to exist on two of eight cylinders? There is a potential impact on the town’s reputation, and the event’s reputation…there are a lot of unknowns,” Miller reflected.
After concluding his presentation, Miller recommended that the council vote to release vendors from their contracts, refund deposits, and allow 2021 space reservations to be based on the 2019 Sunfest, alleviating vendors’ concerns.
Miller then outlined two options to proceed. First, the Town of Ocean City can outright cancel the 2020 Sunfest and hold the 46th Annual event in 2021. On the other hand, the town can still cancel the event, but hold a scaled-back festival, SunLITE instead.
SunLITE would rely on the participation of many local businesses and would feature attractions dispersed throughout the south end of Ocean City. The Inlet Parking Lot would no longer be the sole event site. Pets and bikes would be welcome.
Each member of the council agreed that Sunfest is an Ocean City institution and that it would not be the same if it were to occur. They also agreed that SunLITE is surely an option; however, the council was not ready to decide on either issue.
Mayor and Council Discussion
Councilman Matt James said that waiting to see how the OC Air Show goes this weekend is the best path forward. “If the Air Show does not go well, we do not want to pursue Sunfest. If the Air Show does go well, I think it is possible to make this work. If we could wait another week, that would work well,” James said.
Councilman DeLuca agreed with the sentiments of Councilman James. “We must put this off until next Monday,” DeLuca said.
Mayor Meehan said, “The optics are important, we shouldn’t be considering events with large gatherings. The alternative has a lot of value to it and deserves additional discussion on Monday night.”
Councilman Mark Paddack made a motion for the council to cancel the regular Sunfest and table the discussion on SunLITE to Monday. The motion was seconded by Councilman Dennis Dare, but Councilmembers Mary Knight (Secretary), John Gehrig, Tony DeLuca, and Matt James shot down the motion. Council President Lloyd Martin was absent.
The councilmembers who opposed the motion said that a full discussion on Sunfest should be tabled until after the Air Show occurs. They believe that once they have feedback from the Air Show, one of the first major events to occur since the pandemic began, it will be easier to make a comprehensive decision about Sunfest and SunLITE.
The August 17 meeting is virtual and open to the public. For more information on the upcoming meeting, click here.