OCEAN CITY — The lights may be twinkling, but some in the resort area are wishing that Ocean City had the same twinkle that it did last year, regardless of the cost.
As the uptown Christmas lights twinkled and shined last night at the grand opening of the 17th Annual Winterfest of Lights at Northside Park, the Inlet lot sits dark as result of last year’s budget cuts, trimming over 100 decorations and tens of thousands of twinkle lights from the town’s budget, and from the downtown area.
The council was unanimous in the decision to trim the Inlet’s holiday displays, and although they expressed some reluctance in doing so back in February, they couldn’t pass up the chance to save the town upwards of $30,000.
Yet, when a citizen and member of the downtown association took umbrage with the lack of illumination and holiday sparkle in the downtown area of Ocean City on Monday night, there were a few members of City Council who seemingly flip flopped on their previous decision.
“I know we cut these for all the right reasons down there, but I think we take for granted how much the inlet lot is used this time of year, and how many of the businesses that will probably suffer from this,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “I just hope we can at the very least find a way to do up the entry park. I think that would be a nice feather in the cap for downtown.”
City Manager Dennis Dare was noticeably less than thrilled when Councilman Joe Hall motioned for Dare to find any available money to light up any portion of the downtown area.
Dare hinted that the motion left a bit of a gray area in what he was supposed to do, but he said he knows he’s proverbially supposed to light that gray area up.
“We have installed some lights around the Inlet lot but they are not on yet,” said Dare. “I was as nice as I could be about costs. I have staff working on finding some other opportunities that are safe and cheap, but my concern is erasing all the savings that we achieved last year.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic was firm in his belief that the trimming of the lights in the Inlet parking lot was an unfortunate aesthetic one, but a necessary fiscal one.
“It’s just a good business move,” said Mitrecic. “in December, there’s really no businesses that are open with the exception of a few down there, and I don’t really think that we are effecting anyone’s business if we take this out of there.”
Regardless of what minor changes may be made to ease the sting of the seemingly major decision, Dare assured council that he will try to “do whatever is possible to add some lighting downtown.”
In a related note, Dare also noted that the Winterfest of Lights in Northside Park would be fully prepared and set up for yesterday’s opening ceremonies, but he said that due to last week’s storm and the massive cleanup operation that’s been underway throughout the week, there are a few decorations throughout the town that haven’t been put up yet.
After Maintenance Superintendent Bruce Gibbs retired in October, the Wintefest of Lights operation was assumed by Special Events Director John Sullivan, who along with other members of the Recreation and Parks Department oversaw a few minor changes, such as the bulb replacements on many of the displays to more efficient LED lighting, and the annual rearrangement of the over 100 displays lined with hundreds of thousands of lights.
Last year, more than 80,000 people took a ride on the Winterfest train, which averaged out to almost 1,900 people each night.
This year also marks a new pricing system as a $4 train fee will be charged to guests over the age of 10, rather than age 12 as has been the policy in past years. Children aged 9 and under still ride the train for free.