By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It’s a sign that doesn’t fit with the times.
A large sign in front of the Music Pier that advertises the shows at Ocean City’s premier entertainment venue is so hopelessly old-fashioned that it requires a worker to climb a ladder and then manually change the letters.
City Council President Bob Barr, shaking his head in amazement, recalled one time when a worker couldn’t change the message on the sign because he simply ran out of letters.
Now, city officials are considering getting rid of the antiquated sign that overlooks the Boardwalk at Eighth Street.
Hoping to showcase the concerts, festivals and other special events held at the Music Pier in a better way, members of City Council believe it is time for a new sign that would feature the latest in digital advertising technology.
“There’s a lot of new ways of doing things,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said during the governing body’s meeting Thursday night.
Bergman said Boardwalk merchants have been discussing the old sign with city officials and believe more modern options should be explored to advertise the events at the Music Pier as well as other venues in town.
She said further talks should be held between the city and the merchants to develop some ideals for replacing the old sign.
The Music Pier is the city’s epicenter for entertainment and cultural events, including concerts by the Ocean City Pops, the acclaimed hometown orchestra. Throughout the year, there are concerts, musicals, beauty pageants, food festivals, antiques fairs and other shows in the historic building dating to 1929.
In recent years, the city has upgraded the Music Pier’s sound systems, stage lighting and other parts of the building to create a more inviting experience for the tens of thousands of people who visit the building every year.
Councilman Jody Levchuk said he finds it “amazing” that many visitors to Ocean City don’t fully realize the level of talent and diverse entertainment that are offered at the Music Pier because the old sign fails to properly showcase the events.
Levchuk envisions having a modern sign that would feature a double-sided screen to advertise upcoming events at the Music Pier, on the Boardwalk and other parts of town. He noted that similar signs are commonly found at sports stadiums and museums throughout the country.
“There’s a lot of good technology that has come up in recent years,” Levchuk said in an interview after the Council meeting.
Levchuk, whose family owns the Jilly’s stores on the Boardwalk, said he wants to meet with his fellow merchants and then come back to Council to discuss some ideas for the Music Pier that would blend the building’s historic charms with modern advertising.
“I don’t want to turn it into Times Square,” he said. “I don’t want to lose the small-town feel and old-fashioned charm of that building.”
Levchuk said the Music Pier could possibly serve as a model for a broader modernization of the advertising signs throughout town used by both the city and private businesses. He said the city’s sign ordinance hasn’t been updated in years.
“The Music Pier would be the starting point because it is a high-traffic area,” he said.
Levchuk believes that feedback should be sought from residents and businesses throughout town about the city’s sign regulations. He acknowledged that some people may not want to change the regulations.
In other business at the Council meeting, City Business Administrator George Savastano reported that the city is moving ahead with plans for two new permanent restrooms on the Boardwalk at 10th Street and 11th Street.
Savastano said the restrooms will definitely be ready in time for the 2022 summer season, although the goal is to have them open by April 15 for Easter weekend.
“These facilities, as you know, will be a vast improvement over what we’ve had with temporary restrooms being installed over the past few seasons. We’re confident these facilities will serve our guests and residents very well,” he told Council.
In other news, Savastano reported that the companies that plan to build a wind energy farm 15 miles off the South Jersey coast will hold an open house, Nov. 6, at the Music Pier, to discuss the project with the public.
Orsted and PSEG, the developers of the Ocean Wind project, have scheduled the open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Company representatives plan to give an overview of the project, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public about the wind farm’s impacts.
The project would include 99 massive wind turbines located 15 miles off the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City in the process. Council members in Ocean City have repeatedly stated their opposition to the project, voicing concerns about possible negative impacts to the tourism industry, commercial fishing operations and the environment.
“The mayor had advised them that it’s crucial that they set up a town hall meeting to update everybody on their plans, the status of their application and provide detailed information about the project,” Savastano said of Mayor Jay Gillian’s talks with the developers.
Savastano said the city is urging the public to attend the open house because it will focus on the wind farm’s impacts on Ocean City and the surrounding region.
“Whether you’re for or against this project, the meeting will be an opportunity to learn more about it and also to learn how you can voice your opinion about this project. There’s still an opportunity for folks to express their concerns to the agencies,” he said.
The Ocean Wind project is undergoing rigorous regulatory scrutiny by state and federal environmental agencies as part of its permitting. The permitting process is expected to last about two years.
Although the project would be built in federal waters, Savastano said Ocean City still has “skin in this game” because of the wind farm’s local impacts.
“We have the opportunity – and everyone who has concerns about this – has the opportunity to voice their concerns,” he said while encouraging members of the public to attend the Nov. 6 open house.