OCEAN CITY — The two fireworks shows that would have been held at both ends of town last weekend on the Fourth of July will now be condensed to a single show on New Year’s Eve after a compromise was reached this week between the town and the vendor.
Last month, the Mayor and Council agreed to postpone the traditional Fourth of July fireworks shows downtown at the Boardwalk and uptown at Northside Park over ongoing concerns about COVID-19 and the thousands of spectators that cram into both venues. Instead, the town continued to work with the vendor, Celebration Fireworks, Inc., on alternative dates, including possibly in conjunction with the O.C. Air Show in mid-August or even Labor Day weekend.
Earlier in the spring, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the Mayor and Council agreed to the $55,000 contract with Celebration Fireworks, including a non-refundable deposit of $13,750, with the caveat alternative dates would be explored if the Fourth of July was a no-go. On Monday, after considerable debate, the Mayor and Council approved an arrangement that will utilize the $13,750 deposit for this year’s cancelled Fourth of July fireworks for a New Year’s Eve show.
That measure will save the town the balance of the $55,000 owed for the postponed Fourth of July fireworks in 2020 and a separate deposit of $13,750 will eventually be put down for the Fourth of July fireworks in 2021. Celebration Fireworks, Inc. signed off on the proposal with the promise of developing a request for proposal (RFP) for a three-year contract going forward.
Special Events Director Frank Miller told the Mayor and Council the plan all along was to develop an RFP with Celebration Fireworks, Inc. for a three-year contract. Thanks to the somewhat odd COVID-19 mixed live and part Zoom council meeting format, Celebration Fireworks, Inc. officials were listening in on Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting and communicated with Frank Miller in real time they were amenable to the arrangement.
So, as a result, there will not be major fireworks shows in August in conjunction with the air show, nor will there be fireworks shows in conjunction with Labor Day weekend. Instead, the $13,750 deposit put down for the Fourth of July in 2020 will be rolled into a New Year’s Eve show this year. A new deposit of $13,750 will eventually be put down for the Fourth of July next year. As a condition of the agreement, the town will work on an RFP with Celebration for a three-year contract going forward in out years.
Essentially, it’s a win-win situation for all parties because the town realizes significant savings on the $55,000 budgeted for this year’s Fourth of July shows and gets a show at Northside Park on New Year’s Eve as a kind of crescendo to Winterfest and the end of 2020. Celebration wins because it will likely get a three-year extension for Fourth of July and New Year’s even in subsequent years. Before all that fell into place on Monday, however, there was considerable debate about the other alternatives on the table. City Manager Doug Miller laid out the options for the Mayor and Council.
“Two alternate dates have been discussed,” he said. “One was a patriotic event in connection with the air show. The other was Labor Day weekend. There has also been some discussion about simply cancelling them altogether this year and losing the deposit.”
From the beginning, the decision on Fourth of July this year hinged on the ability to achieve social distancing and the other state and local public safety directives in place with hundreds of thousands expected to gather downtown on the holiday. Frank Miller explained similar concerns existed with the air show option in August and even Labor Day to some degree, but the town has started to ramp up its other special events and has proven it can meet the public safety goals associated with COVID-19.
“Both the first and second weeks in August are certainly very busy in town and now we’re having the air show in the second week of August,” he said. “By then, the hope is we will have shown the health department we can accomplish the public safety goals and physical distancing with the smaller events we already have in place. The air show will be the first really large event and there are a lot of safety measures in place that will meet the health department’s expectations.”
In terms of Labor Day, Frank Miller said that holiday has become the target date for many other jurisdictions that postponed their fireworks shows last weekend. For example, Ocean Pines has already said they will do their fireworks shows on Labor Day weekend.
“Labor Day is the new Fourth of July in terms of fireworks,” he said. “Many of the jurisdictions that postponed their Fourth of July fireworks are targeting Labor Day weekend as an alternative.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, who has been ultra-conservative in terms of COVID-19 and large gatherings and continues to participate in council meetings via zoom had another alternative.
“The option I’d like to put forth is postponing all fireworks this year,” he said. “I voted against the contract because I had concerns about spending $55,000 when we know the shortfalls we’re going to have in the budget.”
Frank Miller said the long-term goal was to reach an extended agreement with Celebration.
“We’re looking to create a three-year contract with the vendor,” he said. “If you consider Councilman Dare’s option, we could allow Celebration to do a New Year’s Eve show this year and the Fourth of July next year, then begin to work on a three-year extension.”
At that point, Celebration official watching the debate on Zoom chimed in they would be amenable to making short-term concessions on the existing contract in exchange for a promise of a long-term RFP. Councilman Matt James said he wasn’t sure the air show was warranted this year with everything else going on.
“I prefer Labor Day to the air show,” he said. “I’m not sure why we’re doing the air show this year. I support the air show and it’s a great event. I just don’t know if it’s practical when you look at all of the emergency directives still in place.”
Councilman John Gehrig said going with the New Year’s Eve alternative would eliminate the need for a second show downtown and could result in savings.
“If we’re paying $55,000 for two shows, maybe we don’t need two shows,” he said. “I’d rather celebrate the end of this long decade at the end of the year with a single show at Northside Park in conjunction with Winterfest.”
In the end, the council voted unanimously to utilize the original $13,750 deposit for a New Year’s Eve fireworks show and agreed to put down a new deposit for the Fourth of July next year. As a condition of the concessions agreed to by Celebration, the town will begin working on an RFP with the vendor for a three-year extension.