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Ocean City Council Votes Against SunLITE, Turns Event Over to Business Community

If you are in Ocean City this week, you may notice a couple of changes as you drive down Coastal Highway. The speed limit, normally 40 mph through North Ocean City, has been reduced to 30 mph, and Downtown, the speed limit has also been reduced. This is due to the expected, unauthorized H2Oi Pop-Up Rally.  It is reasonable to expect heavier than usual traffic, noise and strict enforcement of vehicle laws during the week and weekend.

Courtesy of Special Events Director Frank Miller

The Town of Ocean City will not sponsor SunLITE, an alternative to Sunfest, this fall. However, local entities and businesses that are interested in holding a scaled-down festival are taking it over. “We are reversing roles” said Frank Miller,  Special Events Director for the Town of Ocean City.  “Before, the Town was spearheading the event and businesses played a strong supporting role.  Now, the Downtown Association, OCDC, and Trimpers will be spearheading the effort.”  The Town wants to test COVID friendly and family friendly event ideas, and SunLite is the perfect event to work on.  This event will be smaller scale,  and located on the Boardwalk.  The primary elements include a big sidewalk sale along the boardwalk.  Bikes will be allowed on the boardwalk all day and there will be craft vendors and other business vendors promoting and selling their wares spaced out along the boardwalk.  This event is slated for October 2-4.

“It is not possible to plan on a traditional timeline ” said Frank Miller.  “We are developing ideas at the same time we are trying to execute them.  That’s just the way it is in 2020.”    That’s why the Ocean City Development Corporation under Glenn Irwin’s leadership along with Trimpers and the Downtown Association are working hard to bring this event to Ocean City goers in about one month.  Stay tuned for more details as they are worked out.

For several weeks, the Ocean City Council and Special Events Director Frank Miller struggled with a decision on SunLITE. The event was first proposed in early August, once it became clear that Sunfest, an Ocean City staple, would not be possible in 2020.

During a meeting on August 17, the council voted 6-1 to explore the idea of SunLITE. Councilman Dennis Dare opposed the motion, citing the need to save money during these unprecedented and unpredictable times. At the time, City Manager Doug Miller said that SunLITE would cost the town an estimated $50,000-$100,000. While the rest of the council did not know if SunLITE was feasible, they expressed a desire to see if businesses were interested.

Business Surveys

At the work session on Tuesday, Miller discussed the results of a survey, which revealed a lack of interest from local businesses. More than 2,000 surveys were sent via email to local businesses with the help of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA), the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Association, and the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC). Despite the massive effort to gauge interest, only 50 surveys were completed, including five duplicates.

While Miller said he understands how busy businesses are, he was disappointed in the lack of responses. “It’s hard to keep focused on their operations, let alone respond to an event survey. However, the lack of direct interest is concerning,” Miller said. “From the beginning, I’ve said that this event requires proactive participation from businesses, and the event surveys did not indicate that.”

Not among the Ocean City businesses who failed to express their desire to participate in the event was Trimper’s Rides. Miller gave props to Trimper’s President Antoinette Bruno and the entire team for showing their interest. Miller said that Trimper’s has taken the SunLITE component of a treasure hunt and developed a phone app concept, along with several other ideas for a successful event.

“My suggestion to you is that we as a town will not produce this event, but we will allow others to push forward some version of this event and to proactively do something special,” Miller said. He made clear that he will support businesses with these efforts, even though the Town of Ocean City is not the premier sponsor.

Council Discussion

Following a question from Council Secretary Mary Knight, Miller assured that the town would not be making any additional investments into this event. “The only type of money we would use is money that is already earmarked for similar offerings,” Miller said. The town hopes to streamline permit processes and possibly assist with advertising.

Councilman Mark Paddack expressed his outrage over the lack of responses from local businesses. “This is absolutely deplorable…I’m just shocked at what I’m seeing here today,” Paddack said. He issued a general critique towards entities that always seek assistance from the town but failed to respond when town officials needed answers.

“People in business might be so busy that they didn’t even see the email,” claimed Council President Lloyd Martin. “The businesses are short-staffed, and I know that for a fact because I’m a business owner.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed with Councilman Paddack that the lack of interest was disappointing. He also discussed the need for improved event planning. “We need to be strategic and make sure we are doing the right thing at the right time. This event might be better suited for June,” Dare explained.

Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged the challenges businesses are facing. “The businesses don’t have any help, and they are stretched thin, so that may have played a role in it. This might be a great event to add in June…I think to continue these discussions this fall would be a good idea,” Meehan said.

Just before the members of the council voted on the motion, Councilman John Gehrig made clear that no other funds should be spent on this event. Gehrig also voiced his displeasure with “using funds just to use them.”

The final vote was 6-0, with Councilman Tony DeLuca absent.

Sunfest 2021

Assuming things are back to normal, Sunfest will return to Ocean City from September 30-October 3, 2021.

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