OCEAN CITY – Although it was found that a petition calling for the closure of the underage nightclub in downtown Ocean City never actually existed, the concerns about recent events on the Boardwalk are, in fact, very real.
Rumors have been spreading around the tight knit community of Boardwalk merchants in past weeks about the existence of a petition calling for the closure of H2O, the popular underage nightclub located on Worcester St. Some merchants blame the club for drawing the large crowds of mischievous youths that have gotten into loads of trouble in the past month, including 25 arrests stemming from a near-riot one weekend, which saw 16 arrests and several police officers assaulted, and a large fight earlier this month, leading to nine more arrests.
“I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t gotten involved with the situation,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, a Boardwalk merchant. “I do know that the club is a breeding ground for disruptive behavior and it hypes the kids up so when they come out of the club, they just walk a block up to the Boardwalk and often, trouble occurs.”
Numerous phone calls to merchants found that many of them had heard about the so-called petition, but surprisingly, no one had actually signed it, or seen it.
“I have not seen it, but if it’s real, I would probably sign it,” said Danny King, owner of Kingies Cotton Candy on the boards. “These kids are just coming down here looking for trouble, and I think that if the club moved north a little ways up the island, it would probably solve the whole problem.”
By Wednesday, however, it was confirmed that the petition was nothing more than a “big fat rumor,” according to Somerset South owner Jimmy Miller, who admitted Saturdays have been the only night of the week that have seemingly scared so many of the Boardwalk merchants to the point of shaking a finger at the club.
“It seems to be Saturdays, late at night, right around the time when the club lets out that things start getting scary,” said Miller, “but if you look at the police reports, it’s not kids that are down here on vacation who are causing problems, it’s local kids from Salisbury, Snow Hill, Pocomoke, and Dover.”
H20 owner Robbie Rosenblitt contends that his club is seemingly the easy scapegoat in the issue and has taken recent proactive measures while working with town officials and the local police department to do his part to better the situation.
“The mayor [Rick Meehan] called me and raised a concern, and my reply was ‘what can I do to help?’”, said Rosenblitt. “I later attended a meeting at the Ocean City Development Corporation [OCDC] with the chief [Bernadette DiPino] and some of her staff, as well as a separate police commission meeting, and I offered up some suggestions about things we could do, and listened to some of their suggestions. It was one of the more constructive meetings that I’ve ever been to.”
At the meetings, Rosenblitt offered up a new caveat of sorts to his admission policy, in which he and his partners will no longer allow 19- and 20-year-olds into the club on Saturday nights.
“After reading about the incidents in the papers, I found that most of the people who were arrested were over 18, so we thought that on Saturdays, that this would be a good policy to instill,” said Rosenblitt.
The change, coupled with the addition of a stricter dress code and an added police presence in the area, has been cited as one of the main reasons that the Boardwalk has enjoyed consecutive quiet and incident-free Saturdays on the Boardwalk.
“The last two Saturdays have been back to normal,” said Miller. “So, if in fact the quietness was due to the changes made at H2O, then I am very happy, and I hope that it will now give these kids a very safe environment to have a good time, because it’s all about safety.”
Although it could be argued that H20, which is open seven nights a week, is the easy target in the recent problems that the Boardwalk has endured on Saturday nights, there are still some who think the club would be a better fit in a different section of town.
“It just seems out of place,” said King. “There’s an arcade right down the street and then Trimper’s and Thrasher’s and all the amusements which families enjoy. If people can’t get their Thrasher’s Fries without walking through kids in gangs, then whatever is drawing the gangs to town has to go.”
Vicki Barrett, who is the head of the Boardwalk Development Association, praised the owners of H2O for making the changes and said he has other concerns about the Boardwalk.
“I have more concern with Salvia and noise pollution, but I think there is a cultural shift down there at a certain time in the night, and I think that it’s scaring some people,” said Barrett, “but the club owners have assured us they are doing all they can to help.”
Rosenblitt says that he stays in constant contact with town and the police department and knows that he isn’t being scapegoated by either party, saying, “we’ve always worked hand in hand with them to create a fun and safe environment for kids to come to at H2O.” He added, “some people who don’t truly understand the problems on the Boardwalk oftentimes immediately point their finger at us.”
Others on the Boardwalk realize unsupervised high school graduates and young adults who flock to the resort each year cause many of the annual problems in June.
There have even been grassroots campaigns calling for the town to end Senior Week, but despite many merchants seemingly trying to hold on until month’s end, few would like to see it done away with.
“I think the biggest issue we are facing right now on the Boardwalk is the number of kids that are in town,” said Barrett, “but I would be upset if Senior Week went away, unless something much better replaced it.”