WILDWOOD - An estimated 25,000 people came to town last summer when country music star Kenny Chesney performed in a free beach concert. This summer, another free beach concert with alternative bands Hoobastank, Fuel, Lit and Alien Ant Farm is planned.
The two concerts are examples of what the city wants to see more of - events that draw visitors, annually estimated at 9 million people, to town and make use of the resort's over-sized beach.
Now, the city has created an Office of Beach Services designed to promote more beach activities and at the same time find new sources of revenue. The office falls under the Department of Revenue and Finance and is overseen by Commissioner Pete Byron.
"It's something we've been working on for two years," Byron said of the effort to make use of the beach. "Now, it has an official title and a budget."
The budget of $60,000 is to be used for event promotion and support as needed. Byron added that no additional employees were hired for the new section. He pointed to this year's free concert, scheduled for Aug. 24 on the beach at Schellenger Avenue, as a prime example of what the city wants to do.
That concert will feature the four alternative bands and will be held alongside the Philadelphia Soul Summer Slam, a sporting effort featuring a flag football tournament on the beach.
"A number of different promoters have contacted us with ideas," Byron said.
John Siciliano, executive director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said the Summer Slam demonstrates how the large beach can hold simultaneous events as well.
"We have what a lot of other communities don't have with the size of our beach," Siciliano said Monday.
He noted that the Chesney concert stage and fenced concert area was set up with room for thousands and still did not interfere with beachgoers. The beach measures 1,600 feet from Boardwalk to water's edge and is several football fields long from north to south.
"We know that the beach is an extremely important resource. It's a resource we have that other people don't, and it's important that we utilize that," he said.
While the Chesney concert, sponsored by American Express, drew a one-day crowd of 25,000, other ongoing events also draw ample participants and observers. The Cape Express Beach Blast Soccer tournament taking place this Saturday and Sunday, for instance, could draw 10,000 players and their families.
Siciliano estimated that meant 30,000 people would be in town for the event played entirely on the beach.
"The beaches are big enough to host multiple events," Siciliano said, adding that the strain on city resources, such as public works, police and fire, would have to be weighed to host events in more than one location at the same time.
Byron said the Beach Services Office, along with city contractor Point Break, will work to add to the events calendar as well.
"Ideally, I'd like to see everything in our original CAFRA permit. Volleyball tournaments, surfing beaches, a beach bar," Byron said.
The city even hopes to add a bike path that would link with the bike paths of neighboring towns.
"I'd like to see the beach become almost like a city (of its own)," Byron said.
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