OCEAN CITY, Md. — Ocean City’s “biggest and best festival” won’t go on as planned in 2020, becoming yet another event to be postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SunFest is an annual festival that brings artists, musicians and food vendors to the Ocean City Inlet each fall. This year’s event was scheduled for Oct. 1-4.
The Ocean City Mayor and Town Council unanimously voted Monday night to postpone SunFest after a long discussion about the festival’s viability given the pandemic and statewide restrictions.
Despite the postponement, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan still encourages people to come visit the beach town this fall, according to a press release announcing the change to SunFest.
“Ocean City has actively promoted the many ways visitors can enjoy the town while maintaining physical distancing this summer, but for an event like Sunfest, we recognized it would not be possible to host the event in a way that was in the best interest of public health,” Meehan said.
The decision by the town came after state officials issued guidance stating SunFest couldn’t have any audiences for live performances due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Other parts of the event also came into question. It became unclear if the large food tent featuring different vendors would be allowed, and city officials began to worry if vendors would still be interested in participating.
Ultimately the town concluded that holding SunFest in its traditional form wouldn’t be as viable as in previous years.
Rather than cancel SunFest altogether, the mayor and council voted Monday night to tentatively move forward with a SunLite concept.
Details of the SunLite event are still being discussed, but documents from Monday night’s council meeting indicate it could be a three-day event running from Oct. 2-4.
“The ultimate goal of the event is to answer the need for a fun Ocean City experience with direct benefits to area businesses and organizations,” according to meeting documents. “Guests should leave with fond memories of their experience in town, at the event and with their friends and family.”
The SunLite concept has “a lot of high risk” in it, said Ocean City Special Events Director Frank Miller. Planning a whole new event in 45 days is a challenge, especially with so many details that still need to be worked out.
“SunLite was a recommendation only because it’s an opportunity to appease the local businesses who needed something to happen here in Ocean City in that timeframe,” Miller said.
Ocean City council members were also wary of the new event concept. While the council voted 6-1 in favor of moving forward with the SunLite concept, multiple council members had serious concerns about the event’s viability, its cost and whether it will be worth it.
Councilman Dennis Dare was among those who had concerns, and he voted against the proposed event. Dare was concerned about how little time there is to plan the event and who would be interested in coming to it.
“I didn’t catch what the target demographic is on this, but who are we going to see in October if it’s not senior citizens?” Dare said. “I don’t think it’s going to be families because parents are working and teaching in a lot of most instances now, so I don’t know who’s going to be traveling to the first week in October.”