Ocean City Today

County to decide on outdoor sports complex

By Brian Gilliland | Aug 31, 2017

(Sept. 1, 2017) As part of the Worcester County Commissioners regular meeting scheduled for next Tuesday morning, Commissioner President Jim Bunting said the board would hold a rare work session on the feasibility of a proposed outdoor sports complex.

The complex is a remnant of a stadium proposal that emerged in late 2015, with the idea that it would be home to a minor league hockey team as well as retail shops and a possible restaurant.

The stadium portion of the plan fell by the wayside this past spring, when the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center announced its intention to pursue the minor league hockey team. An outdoor sports complex, however, was deemed potentially viable.

In early August, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the state agency responsible for planning and funding such projects, presented the commissioners with its findings on the project.

The commissioners took no action following the presentation, instead apparently opting for next week’s work session.

The commissioners face two main decisions about the complex before the project can proceed. First, the board must vote to move forward and second, the commissioners would need to decide on a location.

While three members, commissioners Bunting, Chip Bertino and Diana Purnell did not return several requests for comment, other members did, showing there was at least marginal support for the venture heading into the meeting.

“It’s a golden opportunity for the county,” Commissioner Bud Church said. “Between my son and my five grandchildren playing sports, I’ve traveled half of the East Coast, and have seen the opportunities these places bring to other areas.”

Church said he would vote in favor of the complex wherever it may be located, but he favors someplace along the Route 50 or Route 113 corridors.

Representing the southern end of the county, Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said he would like to see the commissioners consider placing a new amenity outside of the highly developed northern region.

“I don’t know that the company reviewing the project took a hard look outside of the south end of the county. I know the other commissioners like the northern end, but we’re putting all of our eggs in one basket, and we keep doing it,” he said.

Lockfaw said there is plenty of land available along Route 13 and 113 that could be suitable, and less expensive than property closer to the resort.

Lockfaw contended the complex would spur its own development and could spark more interest in what southern Worcester has to offer.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, representing Ocean City on the board, said he was highly in favor of the project.

“I hope I’m one of at least four in favor of it,” he said. “If we don’t do it, we’ll be behind the trend and end up on the outside looking in. North side, south side — they’re all good for me.”

Mitrecic said he didn’t think the county could build the project and the infrastructure — like water, sewer and support amenities like hotel rooms — would follow. He also thought the county may have to contribute something toward the effort, like tax increment financing. Private investment is also a priority for Mitrecic, as he said he doesn’t believe the county could run the facility as effectively as a private enterprise could.

Commissioner Ted Elder said he was keeping an open mind about the project, and wants to know what the other commissioners were thinking.

“I’m leaning more toward something that is self-sustaining. The county isn’t in the position to commit large sums of money to the project,” he said.

Private industry would give the facility a greater chance at success, he said. Elder also indicated he favored placing the facility at the southern end of the county.

The proposal backed by the stadium authority would require a minimum of 32 acres for the fields, plus another eight acres devoted to parking. Any possible expansion would also have to be factored in, as well as the accessibility to residents and travelers.

The authority also recognized the facility would operate at a loss between $136,000-$155,000 annually after expenses were covered, but could earn between $12-$14.8 million, bringing between $446,000-$551,000 in local tax revenue and between $1.9-$2.4 million in state tax revenue. It was estimated to bring about 400 jobs to the region, though not necessarily tied to the complex itself.

For a season ranging from March 1 to Nov. 30, the authority estimated the complex would draw between 17-21 events bringing up to 110,000 participants and spectators to the venue. Those people could generate up to 62,475 hotel stays during events, according to the presentation.

The authority noted 90 percent of event activity would be new to the county.

Should the commissioners authorize county staff to scout potential sites for the complex, it would be county administration’s responsibility to conduct the search, not a specific department such as tourism or economic development, Kim Moses, county public information officer, said.

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