OCEAN CITY –The North Ocean City Business Alliance sought the Mayor and Council’s support this week for a formulated plan to bring new special events to north Ocean City.
Michael James, managing partner of the Carousel Hotel and Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) member, approached the council for two reasons — to seek the return of the former Tourism Commission and to request the town’s backing of the alliance’s hopes for hosting special events in the northern end of town.
“I know we work really hard and we promote the entire city but at this point the North Ocean City Business Alliance … we need your help,” he said. “It needs to be something sustainable and long-term.”
The alliance is looking to create special events in the northern end of town, Northside Park or on the beach to draw visitors in that direction.
James used the Gold Coast Mall and the 94th Street mall as examples of dying businesses in north Ocean City. He also said this past winter and the scarcity of operating businesses was unprecedented for the northern end of town.
“I have never seen it like it was this winter,” he said. “There were restaurants I have never seen closed shut down.”
The alliance has been working on ideas such as a Wine Festival in Northside Park and a Bikini Parade on the beach.
“We are just a little concerned … we are not trying to take anything away from downtown but I think often the default [location] is the Boardwalk and the Inlet, and we do need help,” James said.
Councilwoman Mary Knight agreed and pointed out that the $300,000 allocated to TAB to bring events to town is dedicated to the entire Ocean City area, not just downtown.
James said he has been in contact with Ocean City event organizer Bob Rothermel in coming up with a detailed plan on creating an event schedule for north Ocean City.
In February, Rothermel was approved to move forward with a summer family entertainment series funded by the remainder of TAB’s funds, $170,000. In addition, TAB asked for the council to consider allocating an additional $300,000 in next year’s budget to finish funding the series and in order to continue to study upcoming presentations of new events that would add value to the town.
Next month TAB is scheduled to come before the Mayor and City Council to agree on a Memorandum of Understanding in how allocated funding is to be disbursed.
“There is some confusion on that $300,000,” James said. “When Bob Rothermel offered the program … it was my understanding, for instance, the fireworks would be split and that maybe they would try to do a concert up north.”
Councilman Joe Hall recalled that the 4th of July fireworks bids had come in under budget for this upcoming summer and the town saved $22,000 by going with a new company to supply them.
“What I would like to do is make a motion that we earmark that $22,000 to allow your group to develop some ideas on how to develop some northern end special events this summer and allow you to come back and request it,” Joe Hall proposed.
Councilman Doug Cymek immediately objected. He said the council has historically required other promoters to come before the Mayor and City Council with a detailed plan and costs related in order to be approved.
“As quick as we save some money, we are spending it, and I just don’t think this is the right way to approach this,” he said. “If they are prepared to come back to us, I would rather look at the whole program rather than just give them $22,000.”
Council Secretary Lloyd Martin, a business owner in north Ocean City, said he supports the alliance 100 percent but could not support the motion on the table without reviewing a detailed plan first.
Knight agreed with Cymek and Martin.
“You are asking for support and I think the council is giving you that tonight but I don’t think we should take money that we just saved and allocated when we have $300 thousand for these kinds of events,” she said.
The council voted to earmark the savings of $22,000 in firework funds for northern events in a 4-2-1 vote, Cymek and Martin opposed, and Knight abstained due to lack of information.
“I’m ok with it because it gives them a little seed to get started,” Council President Jim Hall said.
James had one other request of the council and that was to reinstate the abolished Tourism Commission.
“I would request the Mayor and Council consider reinstating the Tourism Commission like we used to have. As we work with TAB and without having elected officials, it’s just very difficult. I have served on both — the Tourism Commission and TAB and prior to that I was chairman of the state Tourism Board,” James said. “It’s really imperative in my opinion that we have elected officials there.”
After the 2010 election, which altered the leadership of the council, the majority of the council voted to dissolve the Tourism Commission along with a list of other sub-committees. Since then, TAB was formulated and made up of tourism partners throughout the community.
“I have struggled with these TAB meetings. They go on and it’s hard to communicate with the council,” James said. “It just seems to me to get back to the structure, that seemed to be more effective in my opinion.”
The majority members of the council did not seem swayed as they stood strong in their explanations of why the subcommittees, such as the Tourism Commission, were eliminated in the first place.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas explained that there were three council members assigned to the Tourism Commission and in her opinion it was not enough.
“I wanted them here where whomever could come here and talk to the full council and go over so the audience, the visitors, or whoever could view it,” she said.
Jim Hall added that the thought process was that the council was heading in a new direction where all business was conducted in front of the people.
“That same group can come in and ask that way all seven members and the mayor get the information at the same time,” he said.
In response to the comments made by James, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones, a TAB member, said his opinion will be discussed at TAB’s next meeting.
“We will be discussing his comments at our next TAB meeting to collectively determine the best plans for moving tourism forward,” Jones said.