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Ocean City preps for 'College Takeover,' influx of students

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What organizers are billing as "College Takeover Beach Week" in Ocean City is causing some concern in the community, but town officials said they are prepped, positive and planning for a safe summer.

College beach week is an "unsanctioned event," said Jessica Waters, communications manager for Ocean City. She pointed out that it is one of several similar gatherings – including Senior Week — that have not gone through the town's official process for approving private or public events.

The beach gathering aimed at college-age kids made quite a splash last year in Virginia Beach, where it was believed to have contributed to drawing some 30,000 to 40,000 people to that city's shores on one weekend in April.

The Virginian-Pilot reported an outbreak of violence occurred during that weekend, including shootings, robberies and general rowdy behavior. More than 100 arrests were made, the newspaper reported. However, organizers denied that their group was responsible for the violent incidents.

The influx of visitors took Virginia Beach by surprise, but Ocean City officials said they are ready for the event, scheduled for June 5-8 and promoted on various social media sites.

"We learned about it via social media," Waters said. "It's an unsanctioned event. We have several of these that happen each year. We're planning for it."

She said the town's police department has taken several measures, including talking with organizers, beefing up police presence for the weekend and contacting Virginia Beach police officials to gain some insight into what happened with last year's event.

Tae Sweizy, one of the organizers of College Beach Takeover, said some students went to Ocean City last summer for a casual visit and had a great time.

"It was a lot of fun and it was cool," said Sweizy. So they decided to go again this year, but to "do it at a bigger level and promote it to get more people down there."

He said organizers have been in contact with city officials and are aware of new rules, like no profanity on the boardwalk and a smoke-free beach.

"I don't have a problem with it," said Sweizy, who described the event as a getaway to kick off summer break. "We're gonna keep it safe."

Waters said the beginning of June is when the town really starts to see a spike in crowds at the beach.

"June for us is a very busy month and we have a very large crowd, a very young crowd and a very diverse crowd," she said. "For us, it's not this particular event. We're preparing for the whole summer season."

Waters said that while some residents and members of the community are wary of the new event, "the biggest concern is the concern of the unknown.…[but] we're confident in our preparation and our planning."

Joe KroArt, who owns Ocean Gallery Fine Arts on the boardwalk, said that while he has heard some rumblings about the event, he is not adding staff or making any other preparations.

"I think it's more of a wait and see," he said. "I don't think there will be significant situations [of concern]. That's my gut feeling."

Waters said that the town's goal is to be inclusive and open to all. Waters pointed to a second college beach weekend held in Virginia Beach in late April that appeared to go more smoothly than the first.

"We're very positive. We welcome all of our visitors. This group and any other group," she said. "We expect that they're going to be safe, they're going to be courteous and they're going to be respectful."

As long as everyone follows the same rules, "we're not going to have any of those problems."

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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