OCEAN CITY — City Council is considering an ordinance requiring musicians to get permits before soliciting money on the Boardwalk, a measure police said is necessary but others think will hurt the community’s character.
Many other shore towns have dealt with street performers in different ways. Wildwood completely prohibits playing instruments on its Boardwalk from May through September, while Atlantic City makes performers get permits and stay in designated areas.
Ocean City has gone without a specific law governing these types of activities, but police said it is becoming a nuisance as more performers attract large crowds that can impede traffic on the Boardwalk.
“This doesn’t happen in isolated incidents,” said City Prosecutor Don Charles, whom officers asked to propose the ordinance. “This happens every day throughout the summer, concentrated primarily in heavily traveled pedestrians areas.”
The proposed ordinance, which was introduced at last week’s council meeting, would only require a permit for the solicitation of donations while playing an instrument. People could still play without a permit, but would not be allowed to accept anything of value in return.
“I think if you take the money collecting out of it, it will really slow it down,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said during the City Council’s discussion of the proposal.
That is what many people believe has happened in Atlantic City. The regulations themselves are said to deter performers, let alone the $25 cost of the license and other processing fees that could add up to a total of $95.
Ocean City has not proposed a fee yet for the permit, but Flossi Micciolo, director of the Ocean City Repertory Theater, said she could immediately think of musicians in town who would not go through the process of getting a permit even if it were free.
“It’s nice to get up and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go play my guitar on the Boardwalk today,’” she said.
Micciolo said the Boardwalk musicians are mainly young locals who are looking to reach a larger audience than the small, like-minded crowds that attend open mic nights and talent shows in the city. It is also simply nice to play in an outdoor setting by the beach.
“I hope they don’t do it,” she said about council making the new regulation. “Freedom of expression is important in any town.”
The councilmen stressed that they did not want to deprive the local arts scene of a venue, but said that there was clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.
“I don’t want to shut these kids down. I want them to be able to display their talent,” said Councilman Tony Wilson, who said his own daughter is a singer. “And I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not for the arts. We’re just asking them to get a permit.”
Councilman Mike DeVlieger added that the permit fee has to be reasonable.
“If someone’s playing for nickels, dimes and dollars, you can’t have a $100 permit fee,” he said.
Council ultimately introduced the ordinance but planned to follow up with the Police Department and do more research about the issues involved before the possible adoption on Thursday, May 30.
Coincidentally, City Council has been holding its meetings on Thursday nights in the public library since Hurricane Sandy wrecked offices in City Hall, and will likely remain there for several months more. Those are the same nights that the library holds open mic nights, and the singers can often be heard through the closed doors of the council meeting.
However, the only person from the public to speak about the ordinance at last week’s meeting was resident Cynthia Hart.
“These are kids who, like many musicians, have very little money,” she said. “They are trying out their craft, learning what it is like to perform, and I personally want the opportunity to support them with encouraging words and a couple of bucks.”
She said the money aspect of the activity serves as extra affirmation that the musicians are doing something good.
“Our young musicians should be revered and encouraged, not squelched by charging a licensing fee for the coffers of a wealthy town,” she said.
If you go:
The next Ocean City Council meeting will be held on Thursday, May 30, at 7 p.m. in the Ocean City Free Public Library at 1735 Simpson Avenue in lecture hall Room N110.
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