(May 17, 2019) Ocean City Tourism Commission members on Monday considered adding more and bigger events to the resort’s summer season, and debated whether to allow pets on the beach and Boardwalk beyond the current limitations.

City Councilman John Gehrig, repeating his theme from a recent mayor and City Council meeting, suggested reworking the current plans for fireworks displays.

Gehrig said the fireworks have had a dramatic impact on attendance at Northside Park events, but are less meaningful to the tens of thousands of Boardwalk patrons who already are a captive audience.

Mayor Rick Meehan balked at one suggestion that people might consider staying an extra day for fireworks, but said the displays were there to enhance visitors’ experience. Meehan said he started the program years ago, when he was the acting city manager.

“Maybe value-added isn’t needed,” Gehrig said. “We don’t want to be the free stuff … provider anymore.”

Gehrig suggested, rather than two fireworks shows over the beach and Boardwalk, just having one event, but making it a grander spectacle.

“This is about the experience in Ocean City. And in my opinion, the experience should be grand and great – and no more junk,” he said.

Gehrig, several times throughout the meeting, suggested Ocean City focus its events on being “world class.” More than once, he invoked the proposed World Championship Punkin Chunkin contest.

Commission members also suggested different days of the week to target, hoping to extend the stay of tourists. Gehrig specifically mentioned Sundays and Thursday as keys to “try to get that length of stay” longer.

“I think we try to make Sunday grand and we try to make Thursday grand,” he said.

Special Events Director Frank Miller said commission members ought to think collectively about “when you want to do it [and] who’s going to pay for it.”

“And then let us come up with the events that fit the parameters,” he said. “There’s a lot of different events we could do to enhance the experience in Ocean City – the question becomes when do you want it, where do you want it, why do you want it, and who’s going to pay for it?

“If you don’t want to do anymore value-added events and you want the patrons to start paying for those events, then we can design events that way,” Miller continued, adding, “There are a lot of things to consider.”

Gehrig said the discussion was difficult to have with press in the room.

“Brainstorming involves a lot of dumb ideas … that get polished up,” he said.

Meehan was of two minds, again saying fireworks were a value-added event that enhances visitors’ experience, but also offering, “I think we need to look at some other big things to do.”

He added he’s seen people lingering later in shops, or else sitting on benches and concrete seating along the Boardwalk, waiting for the fireworks.

“There are a lot of people that are waiting for the fireworks, but I don’t think that’s what John’s talking about,” Meehan said. “That’s a small thing and, yeah, we [can] gauge whether it’s still important. I think you’re looking for some new things that really would be bigger, that could make a couple nights a year really stand out.”

John Gehrig pumpkins in space

Ocean City Councilman John Gehrig during a Tourism Commission meeting on Monday said resort events should be made bigger and grander, and world class. At one point Gehrig joked if the World Championship Punkin Chunkin event comes to Ocean City, the gourd projectiles should “fly so far out into the ocean you can’t even see them,” adding, “I want them shot into space!”

“I think everything we do, we should think grander,” Gehrig said. “Everything should be world-championship quality, even if we do … fewer things.

“The Ocean City experience, no matter what it is, should be the best,” he continued. “I don’t want the regional championships of Punkin Chunkin – I want the world championships of Punkin Chunkin. I want them to fly so far out into the ocean you can’t even see them. I want them shot into space!”

Commission members also briefly considered extending the time when residents and visitors are allowed to bring their pets onto the beach and Boardwalk. Currently, pets are not allowed in those areas from May 1 through Sept. 30.

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said her board debated the issue, but never came to a consensus.

“We didn’t come up with any conclusions – just the fact that we thought we should continue talking about it and seeing if there was any consensus around the community,” she said. “There was discussion about maybe having it Memorial Day to Labor Day as the exclusion.”

According to Jones, one HMRA member said his hotel allows pets and is full in April, but empty the first week of May when pets are disallowed.

Councilwoman Mary Knight said there were environmental concerns – namely people not adequately cleaning up after their pets – while others said the Boardwalk was already overcrowded in May with “the bikes, the rollerblades, the strollers, the wheelchairs, [and] the surreys.”

One commission member asked about the possibility of another dog park, to which Gehrig replied that was a possibility, while miming a large dollar sign.

“Everything does has a cost,” Meehan said.

When some suggested allowing dogs only during certain hours, Meehan offered, “There’s a lot of people during the summertime that stay out on the beach until 7:30-8 o’clock [at night].”

Likewise, he argued, many got up early to watch the sunrise.

“There are lots of people that do a lot of other things at the beach that this could interfere with,” Meehan said.

“I guess we’ll continue that conversation [later],” Councilman Matt James said, ending the debate.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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