(Oct. 9, 2020) The Ocean City Council tabled a request Monday night from Trimper’s Rides Ocean City to allow its Ferris wheel to stick out over the Boardwalk to increase visibility, after several members expressed concerns over government interfering with private business and setting precedent.
The 150-foot Inlet Eye, or the Big Wheel, is one of the tallest structures in Ocean City, and riders who reach the top can get a view of the resort, from Assateague Island to Fenwick Island, Delaware.
However, according to Trimper’s President Antoinette Bruno, the placement of the wheel made it invisible once a visitor reached the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Near the southern end of the Boardwalk.
“We’re trying to keep the wheel here and we had a lot of confusion this summer between the wheels,” Bruno said.
She said customers would see the wheel from a distance, head toward it, but then end up at Jolly Roger on the Pier and ride that Ferris wheel.
“They then came down to Trimper’s and demanded to be put on the wheel with their Jolly Roger’s ticket,” Bruno said. “It didn’t abate, it never abated [and] it continued until we both closed this [past] weekend.”
To rectify this, Trimper’s was requesting to relocate the wheel east and overhang the Boardwalk by approximately 13 feet.
Doing so would not only solve the confusion, she said but also would draw people away from the pier and make the area less congested.
The request came with some technical issues, City Engineer Terry McGean said, as it would encroach on to the Boardwalk well beyond what the city code allows for awnings and signs.
“Under our current code, we allow encroachment into the right-of-way, but the maximum amount is 4 feet horizontally, and it would have to be at least 8 feet above the Boardwalk or 15 feet above the street,” McGean said.
Councilman Matt James asked if moving the wheel would impede the view of neighboring businesses, and Bruno said the only one that would be blocked would be the Inlet Village, which Trimper’s owns.
Bruno added that the wheel is a temporary structure installed from April to July and then shipped elsewhere.
Solving the visibility issue could allow the wheel to become a more permanent fixture, Bruno said, because it would give its owner, Michael Wood owner of Wood Entertainment, a financial incentive to stay.
Bruno said the company currently misses two major fairs by staying in Ocean City, which equates to a loss of roughly 3.3 million rides for Wood.
“The problem I’m having and what I’m hearing is that the wheel on the pier has a competitive advantage — people see it and they don’t see yours,” Councilwoman Mary Knight said. “I have a real problem for us, as the government, to get involved in that and taking away or minimizing that competitive advantage that the wheel on the pier has.”
Councilman John Gehrig agreed and said it was essentially a marketing move, although Bruno denied the notion.
“I don’t want to get involved,” Gehrig said. “You guys have been competitors for a really long time … and I don’t want to get involved in a line of fire.”
She also said that she spoke with Jolly Roger General Manager Steve Pastusak and received his blessing for the move.
“Jolly Roger’s doesn’t have a problem with the wheel moving up,” Bruno said.
If that were the case, Knight said he should have been part of the presentation and asked Bruno to bring a letter confirming the sentiment.
Pastusak told Ocean City Today on Wednesday that he and Bruno had never had a conversation about moving the Ferris wheel.
Uncomfortable with making a decision without more information, the council ultimately chose to table the request and readdress it at a future meeting.