Ocean City mayor says MS bikeathon not going anywhere

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OCEAN CITY – After news that the Bike MS: City to Shore tour may not finish in Ocean City as it has for over three decades, bikers and supporters were upset and expressed their concerns at the Jan. 10 council meeting.

One resident, who said he has been “peripherally” involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraiser for many years, said changing the location of the event isn’t a big enough issue to risk losing it to Avalon.

“I think it’s a great event for Ocean City and I just think it would be am mistake for us to change the venue for that event. Changing the venue certainly risks that the MS 150 as an organization would relocate elsewhere,” he said.

The MS bikeathon brings about 7,000 cyclists and their families and friends to Ocean City in the fall for the 75-mile, one way or 150-mile, round trip event that begins in Cherry Hill, raising $5.6 million in 2012. According to the MS Society, the event generates $600,000 for Ocean City.

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, Greater Delaware Valley chapter president Tami Caesar told The Gazette that the city administration had asked that the location of the finish of the event, the Sixth Street parking lot near the beach, be moved due to safety concerns. City community services director Jim Mallon said the concern of the city was that the participants and supporters would mill about the street ends during the event.

The city suggested other options, such as the Intermediate School or the Ninth Street parking lots, to hold the finish of the event, which Caesar said do not meet the organization’s minimum requirements for a staging area. City business administrator Mike Dattilo added during Thursday evening’s council meeting that moving the event onto the high school football field was also discussed.

“I realize what the administration is saying, that there’s a safety issue involved,” the resident said, adding that he believes it’s no more serious than Sixth Street backed up with cars and foot traffic on a busy summer day.

“The street is just as impassable, probably more impassable then,” he said. “Personally, I think the safety thing is a sham.”

Mayor Jay Gillian said it was anything but, and said that “there is nothing going on.”

“MS Bike tour is fine, there is nothing wrong,” he said Thursday.

Gillian said that 20 percent of the amount raised during the MS event in Ocean City goes to administrative costs and future fundraising. He said his objective was to find a way for the MS Society to lower those costs, while keeping the event in Ocean City.

“How can we do it better, how can we save money?” he asked.

Gillian also noted that the football field was discussed as a way to get cars into the parking lot and keep people off the street, but the MS Society had concerns about wheelchairs on the grass.

“I’ve heard the whisper down the lane,” he said of rumors circulating about the event.

Noting how successful the event is, and the proximity of the staging area to his own boardwalk business, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, he said, “You’d have to think I was a moron” to move the event.

“Of course I don’t want it moved,” he added. “I don’t have any agendas.”

Gillian said that the city and the MS Society were not able to reach an agreement on the location by the end of the year as the MS Society would have liked to, which, he suggested, may have led to the chatter.

Gillian also noted that a family member has MS and anyone who thinks that he would try to stop the MS Society from raising money doesn’t know him at all.

“My safety issue is the fire zone and if someone gets hurt,” Gillian said. “There are some residents that live around there that have come to me, and they’re afraid to say anything because look what just happened.”

Gillian also stated that the Crohn’s 5K race has changed routes to Haven Avenue, and the organizers “love” it.

Caesar stated earlier this week that she expects a resolution of the location by Friday, Jan. 11, as does the city administration who expressed the same sentiment at Thursday’s meeting.

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