(April 30, 2021) Organizers of the White Marlin Open gained Ocean City Council approval for an enhanced version of this summer’s Marlin Fest, which goes with the fishing tournament and allows the public to watch weigh-ins of the pelagic royalty in areas other than Harbour Island.
Madelyne Rowan and Sasha Motsko met with the council during a work session on Tuesday to go over the memorandum of understanding for the event, which is now in its second year.
Marlin Fest will take place at the Third Street ball fields from Aug. 2 to 6 between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. The event is free to the public and will feature a live stream of the tournament via large screen televisions as well as nearly 30 vendors selling things like food, alcohol, and tournament merchandise.
Last year, the event was thrown together rather quickly to give people something to do in a socially distanced atmosphere during the pandemic.
“What we are looking to put on ... is Marlin Fest,” Rowan told council. “Marlin Fest came out of the necessity last year to spread people out.
“It’s important for us to make clear that we really want to offer an event that is free to the public,” she added.
To enhance the experience of fish weigh-ins for children, Marlin Fest will feature educational experiences and other activities that don’t typically take place at Harbour Island, where the main event occurs.
The issue Rowan and Motsko had was with the fee schedule associated with hosting an event on city government property.
Rowan told council the week of the event is already one of the busiest of the year, and she believes the White Marlin Open is one of the reasons for that.
Because of the event’s influence, she asked council to offset the costs.
For example, the city requires a facility fee of $125 per vendor per day to use the ballpark for an event. That would come to $625 per vendor for the week.
Rowan asked that the festival be treated more like a sports tournament – such as lacrosse or baseball – where the organizers are charged a vendor concession fee of $75 that covers all vendors.
Under the parks and recreation fee structure, however, the tournament would be required to pay upwards of $20,000.
“We can’t even make our money back ... we’re losing money on vendors,” Rowan said. “We’re asking for some leeway there.”
Her solution, at first, was to move some of the money used for in-kind services provided by the city for the event. For instance, Ocean City provides trash cans, police, public works, barricades and a shuttle to and from the event for the White Marlin Open.
In years past, the city provided in-kind services valued at approximately $20,000 for the fishing tournament, but this year no shuttle will be taking people from the convention center to Harbour Island. Also, Rowan said she was told by the Public Works department that 65 garbage cans were provided for the Harbour Island gathering, which she thought was overkill, adding that she has only spotted about nine trash receptacles in the area.
Additionally, the city charges a facility fee of over $2,500.
Mayor Rick Meehan said the organizers of the tournament organizers are really looking to expand its profit-making ability by hosting the supplemental event. By the same token, events such as Wine Fest are required to pay the $2,500 facility fee, so Marlin Fest should be no different.
“Really, what we’re asking for is to be treated as any private special event would be,” Rowan said.
Councilman Mark Paddack recommended the board cut the vendor fee in half to about $300, which was not acceptable to Rowan.
“From our standpoint, I don’t understand why we would have to pay a $300 vendor fee where others pay $75.” she said.
Councilman John Gehrig said hosting Marlin Fest at a recreation and parks venue falls in sort of a gray area that is not covered by the city code.
Council members asked several questions that Rowan could only respond to in board terms, creating confusion among some members, with Councilman Tony DeLuca asking the council to delay making a decision until the council’s Monday night meeting.
For example, when it came to the actual number of in-kind services that were provided in previous years, Rowan came up with rough estimates, as she did when asked how much the event would need this year.
Councilman Matt James suggested breaking up what was going to be required of the organizers by passing a resolution for the facility fee and one for the special event fees. Then, he said, the number of trash cans needed could be determined, which would make for an easier calculation of the value of in-kind services provided.
James pointed out that the number assigned to in-kind services jumped between $12,000 and $50,000 during the conversation, and that he did not think the whole picture was being presented. To vote without seeing the full picture would be premature, he said.
Special Events Director Frank Miller told the board that the numbers were available and could be provided.
Gehrig, though, moved to provide Marlin Fest with up to $20,000 of in-kind services and have the vendor pay the facility fee and $75 vendor fee. Anything beyond the $20,000, he said, would be the responsibility of the festival organizers.
Instead of $20,000, the value of in-kind services was modified to be based on what was provided for the White Marlin Open in 2019 and 2020.
Ultimately, the board voted 6-0 in favor of the motion, with Lloyd Martin absent from the meeting.