With Ocean City about halfway through its busiest season, we talked with Mayor Rick Meehan about how this summer is going.
Meehan, who grew up in Towson and graduated from Dulaney High School, said things have gone very smoothly, despite a scare from Hurricane Arthur over the Fourth of July weekend. He said this year's Dew Tour was a great success, breaking attendance records and giving him hope that the event will return in 2015 for the fifth year in a row. New events like a sand sculpting festival are scheduled for August.
The town has also broadened its base of visitors, who used to be mainly from Pennsylvania and Maryland, and now regularly attracts vacationers from New Jersey and New York.
"They've discovered Ocean City, and once they discover it, why wouldn't they want to come back?" he said.
What's your favorite part of summer?
Ocean City's in a unique place because you know we go from a town of about 7,000 [residents] — we always have about 20,000-25,000 people in town — but then all of a sudden as the summer comes, the crowds increase. It's like the switch goes on and Ocean City really comes alive. I think that's my favorite time. … We've been working hard all winter typically to prepare for everybody to come. So when it really kicks off, that's an exciting time. ... I always tell the Maryland State Firemen's Association when they arrive in Ocean City, we know the summer has officially started because they have a great tradition of coming here. Years ago, that was the official opening of summer.
If it's my first time in Ocean City, what's the first thing on my to-do list?
Obviously the things that people come here for and the things that you want to make sure you hit are our beach, of course, and that may be a given, but it's still so important, and the Ocean City boardwalk. It's a one-of-a-kind, it's a promenade that offers a little bit of something for everybody. It's an experience, and I think it's something that everybody needs to enjoy while they're here in Ocean City.
What about folks who may have been coming here for 10 years? What's the hidden gem?
The boardwalk is always going to be my No. 1, regardless, because it's constantly changing and it's just so unique. I live in downtown Ocean City and … I ride my bike on the boardwalk a lot in the mornings and I go up there just to walk around and sit on the benches at night. …Secondly is that people need to discover the bayfront and bayside in Ocean City and all that has to offer. Our parks along the bayside, some of the activities and boating and fishing and just being able to be bayside. Whether it's out at Sunset Park or one of the bayside restaurants to watch the sun set in Ocean City — it's one of the prettiest you'll find anywhere.
To protest Rep. Andy Harris' opposition to the District of Columbia's efforts to decriminalize marijuana, a D.C. voting group has called for a boycott of Ocean City this summer. Will it have any impact?
No. I don't think it will have any impact. Really, I think their concern is more about the intrusion into the governmental policies of the District. And I can certainly understand their concerns about that intrusion because you would certainly like your municipality to be able to make their own laws and regulations. But I think to try to organize a boycott to punish the citizens of the Eastern Shore or Ocean City is ludicrous, especially since there are many property owners from the District of Columbia here in Ocean City. And they rely on the tourists renting their properties and they come down here and enjoy Ocean City, as do many of the people that work here in Ocean City that are students who live in the District or those in the District who come down here to enjoy the beach. I think they didn't think about maybe they're punishing some of their own constituents, their own residents. I think it's ludicrous, and I don't give it a lot of credibility.
Did Hurricane Arthur give you a bit of a scare coming so early in the season?
It did. To have a hurricane make landfall anywhere along the East Coast in July is truly out of the ordinary. In fact, it may have been the first time that early in July that one had ever made landfall along the East Coast. We knew from the projections that we weren't gonna have any significant impact from Arthur. I can assure you that as a coastal community we're very cognizant of any storm that begins to form in the Atlantic and we follow every storm. …The only thing Arthur really caused us to do was to reschedule our fireworks that were scheduled for July 4, and that mostly had to do with the fact that we were expecting to get some wind and rainfall, which would have prohibited us from being able to set up the fireworks. …That was the only inconvenience.
Are you doing anything differently with emergency operations as a result of [Superstorm] Sandy?
Not dramatically. We learn from every event that occurs and every storm brings something a little bit different. … What we have learned over the last few years is that predictions about hurricanes are changing a little bit in nature. It used to be that they typically mostly talked about wind speeds of a hurricane when in reality that's only one part of the storm that you have to worry about. The other significant part of that is the storm surge. It was always there, you were always cognizant of it, but I think the public is now more cognizant of it because of the storm surge and because of the water damage from Irene and then Sandy. We've learned to try to get more information out about storm surge and not just wind speeds. Because [with] Hurricane Sandy, that's what the problem was, the surge, not the winds. … I attend a hurricane conference annually, and this year they're starting to really emphasize how to educate people about storm surge. And we're going to be doing the same.
It seems like there's less chatter about crime this season. It's hasn't been at the forefront as much as it was last summer. Why do you think that is?
We don't have a lot of serious crime in Ocean City. If you look at our crime statistics, they're down, but you know, so many of them are for minor incidents. In the early part of the summer last year, we had some visitors we didn't anticipate [who] brought some problems. Throughout winter, we really worked to address those. We realize that unfortunately, Ocean City is not immune to some of the problems that other areas are facing on a daily basis. We do a very good job of making sure our residents and our visitors are safe and don't have to put up with that type of crime. But every once in a while, you're going to see — when you have 200,000 people in town — something occur. So this winter we made some changes. We put up some cameras along the boardwalk, developed a City Watch program — something you see in other areas. And unfortunately we have to make sure that the bad guys know that we're going to be prepared if they choose to come here.