printed 08/07/2020

The Ocean City Council’s Sunfest dilemma can be summed up by offering two examples: The Maryland State Fair, set for three weeks from now, has been canceled, while a limited Delaware State Fair did take place and ended last Saturday.

Reasonable arguments, one supposes, supported the decision each state made. Similar assertions are likely to be heard next week, when the council is set to discuss whether to proceed with Sunfest as scheduled on Oct. 1.

Unfortunately, neither side of the argument will be able to prove its case, since the reasoning both for and against sticking with the schedule will be based more on supposition than cold, hard facts.

The council is faced with a best-guess scenario, the principle concern of which is how its decision will be perceived. Never mind the matter of profits and losses of a scaled-down event. That consideration went out the window when the council gave the air show an extra $100,000 — regardless of the advertising tradeoffs.

Contrary to pronouncements that the Ocean City’s public image will suffer if Sunfest is canceled, the public is just as likely to condemn the resort if the event is held and the covid-19 numbers rise as a result. And they might, as local efforts to prevent the disease’s spread currently aren’t working as well as they should.

The suffering tourism industry, meanwhile, could view Sunfest’s cancellation as another anti-business decree and take it out on the council at the fall election.

But the real what-if question the council and the tourism industry overall needs to answer is not what should happen on a weekend in October. With this area’s current positivity rate the worst in the state, the one thing the resort must do is get that number down and under control before next year.

If this scourge extends into 2021 locally — warm weather certainly didn’t kill it — this year’s troubles will seem small by comparison.

That’s what should guide the Sunfest discussion, not whether it will make for a better weekend, but whether having Sunfest this year will help the town going into next year.

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