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Council won’t back it, but some businesses step up

(Sept. 4, 2020) The Ocean City Council voted on Tuesday to push the responsibility of organizing some form of SunLITE, an alternative to Sunfest, to the Ocean City Downtown Association and Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), after receiving paltry feedback from the local business community. 

Special Events Director Frank Miller said his department, with the help of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, the OCDC and Downtown Association, emailed a survey to 2,223 local businesses to assess their opinions on SunLITE.

“That number included potentially multiple emails going to individual businesses,” Miller said. 

Of the 2,223, “We received back 50 completed surveys,” Miller said. “Needless to say, that number was disappointing, and of those 50 we got back at least five … were duplicates … and two of those surveys came as negative toward the concept.” 

Councilman Mark Paddack would later call this response deplorable. 

Miller said he did not blame the businesses, as they were likely inundated with surviving the summer during covid-19. SunLITE fades with absence   of enthusiasm

Council won’t back it, but some businesses step up “I know it’s hard [for them] to keep their heads above water and focus on their day-to-day operations, let alone to try to focus on a request for an event concept a month from now,” Miller said. 

Nonetheless, SunLITE required active participation from local businesses and the low response rate was not promising. 

“However, there are some businesses that are proactive and absolutely supportive of the concept and I have to give a lot of kudos to Trimper’s, Antoinette [Bruno] and her team, because they really stepped up to the plate and wanted to see this event come to life,” Miller said. 

Miller said one of the ideas for SunLITE had been a scavenger hunt, and Bruno and her team created a phone app concept. 

“My suggestion to you as council … is that we as a town will not produce this event, but we will allow the downtown association, with its membership base, to try to push forward with some version of it,” Miller said. 

The city would take over the event next year. 

City officials could support the downtown association, however, by diverting existing funds for activities, such as drive-in movies produced by T.E.A.M. Productions, Miller said.

“We could also look to do some of the concepts … we were looking at for SunLITE as part of the O.C.toberfest event weekend, which happens the weekend before Halloween,” he added.

Miller also asked the council to allow Trimper’s to use its farmer’s market layout for events in September and October — a small car exhibit slated for Sept. 12-13, a motorcycle exhibit on Sept. 18-19, a Believe in Tomorrow fundraiser on Sept. 20 and the Sunlite event Oct. 1-4. 

“Normally, it would go through a private event process, but given 2020 and the short turnaround we got on event concepts … we just don’t have time to follow that process,” Miller said. 

The council agreed that this would not be the year for Sunlite. 

“Perhaps we need to do a strategic plan for our special events,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “ … is it time to step back and strategically look at what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time. This concept of SunLITE might be something better suited in June.”

He added that other events may need to be discontinued and funds reallocated for new ideas. 

Councilman John Gehrig said while the city should help by providing resources and streamlining the permitting process, it should not fund these events. 

“I don’t want to invest any of our T.E.A.M. Production funds for drive-in movies when we have a private business doing drive-in movies,” he said. “We can either bank those funds or make O.C.toberfest better. I don’t want to just use the funds because they’re there.”

He also said other businesses should be involved, not just Trimper’s. 

“Let the OCDC and the downtown association handle it, but I don’t want to invest any city funds on this,” Gehrig said. “I’d rather have a real plan for what we’re going to do for the rest of the fall, especially now that we’re off the quarantine list.” 

The council voted to not spearhead Sunlite and turn over responsibility to the downtown association and development corporation.

Downtown association Executive Director Mary Ann Manganello said the organization saw promise in the event. 

“We’re doing it because it could become something important [to the city] for fall,” she said. 

While nothing has been set in stone, Manganello said the event would likely take place the first weekend of October on the Boardwalk. 

The council also approved Sunfest’s 2021 date, which is Sept. 30 through Oct. 3. 

For four decades, Sunfest has been held on the third weekend after Labor Day, but this changed in January as a result of it coinciding with Ocean City Bikefest and unsanctioned car rallies. 

Dates for 2022 and 2023 had been recommended, but the council chose to table setting those dates in stone, as several members wanted to evaluate this year’s pop-up rally to see if the event could return to its original date. 

Tabling the decision would also leave the possibility of Sunfest being moved later in the fall.

Josh covers everything Ocean City government and crime. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a B.A. in French and Journalism.

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