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Ocean City

Town trying to accommodate opportunity for ‘tall ship’ visit

(July 12, 2013) Despite being a logistically daunting idea, the city is currently floating a proposal by OC Air Show organizer Bryan Lilley to bring a replica of a 16th-century ‘tall ship’ into the resort for this year’s Sunfest celebration.

“I think it’s a great idea that we might have to reel in a little,” said Special Events Director Frank Miller, who worked with Lilley on the OC Air Show before being hired by the city earlier this year. “The scope and longevity of what they’re proposing is pretty extreme.”

The potential event was reviewed at this week’s Recreation and Parks Commission meeting as a proposal from B. Lilley Productions, which puts on the annual aeronautical festival in the resort.

Lilley is also active with a non-profit group – the National Air, Sea, and Space Foundation – which funds educational and historical events, including the tall ship event at the “Viva Florida 500” celebration this year commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon.

“Bryan has mentioned that the success of their events in Florida has given him some influence over the ship’s location,” Miller said. “He would like to bring the ship in at that time and co-market the event with Sunfest.”

The featured ship at the Florida event in May was from the Nao Victoria Foundation, a non-profit group based in Spain that primarily deals with historical events relating to the 16th-century age of Spanish exploration. Known simply as “El Galeon,” the 170-foot long vessel replicates those that were sailed at the time and is essentially a floating museum.

That vessel would have time in its sailing schedule to berth in Ocean City for nearly a month from late August through early September, according to Lilley’s proposal. Sunfest runs Sept. 19-22 this year.

“The funny part is that the gentleman who runs the whole thing first came over here as a J-1 visa student to Ocean City,” said Steve Webster of the NASSF, who has worked with Lilley and Miller on the idea. “He worked at the Paul Revere and lived behind the Purple Moose – he definitely knows the area. It’s a unique opportunity.”

However, the major question for the city is where to put a ship of that size. The city owns a pier at Sunset Park downtown, but it is not long enough, and part of the adjacent Coast Guard pier would have to be utilized.

“The problem with Sunset Park is that the Master Chief has told me that this would have to go through their real properties division,” Miller said. “He put in a request to them this time last year and hasn’t heard back, so he didn’t feel we would be able to do it for August.”

Due to federal red tape, the proposed location was moved to the bayside boardwalk on Chicago Avenue, between Third and Fourth Streets. This would require roughly $3,000 worth of work to the bulkhead in order to be able to anchor the massive vessel.

Further, the ship would have to be navigated through the Route 50 bridge, a dicey proposition, but one that looks to be possible with the dimensions Miller has been given.

However, the commission was less enthused about Lilley’s idea of using the nearby city sports field for craft and food vendors, given that the use would displace already-planned recreation programs and block an area sometimes used as a helicopter landing zone for medical emergencies.

The potential month-long duration also seemed to be inadvisable, given that the ship would block the boardwalk’s other uses.

“That’s prime fishing season. People will come to that area from sunup to sundown, year after year,” said Councilman and commission Chairman Joe Mitrecic.

A shorter duration through Sunfest weekend, with less of a footprint for the event, seemed to be favored.

“To the extent that we can cover any vendors or exhibits that weekend, fine, but they would need to be the promoter’s exhibits,” said City Manager David Recor. “If we do a profit-share with Bryan, if we’ll co-market it with Sunfest – that’s all stuff for down the road. Can we physically get it here this year if we concentrate on that? I think so,” Recor said.

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