Ocean City Today

Preliminary study approved for sports site

By 5-2 vote, county officials agree to look at major venue idea
By Brian Gilliland | Sep 07, 2017

(Sept. 8, 2017) Two schools of thought emerged among the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday as they reviewed a staff evaluation of a potential outdoor sports complex to be placed somewhere in the county.

Some commissioners contended it was government entering a new business and others considered it an extension of what the county already provides as part of the Parks and Recreation Department.

The commissioners voted 5-2 to proceed to the next step in evaluating the project, which is identifying a potential site to be evaluated by the state. That step costs nothing.

Once the state performs that analysis, some financial consideration from the county is expected, as the study is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but other funding contributions may be found in addition to county resources.

Commissioner Chip Bertino, a steadfast adherent of the first school of thought, reminded the commissioners of previous discussions where most if not all of the others said they did not want to use taxpayer funds to build or manage a sports stadium.

“Why are we revisiting this as a public venture when we said we didn’t want to do it? We made it clear we did not want this as a public enterprise,” he said.

Bertino likened the effort to the county entering into a new business, while the exit of another business, namely the Department of Liquor Control that oversaw wholesale distribution of alcohol and some retail operations in the county, was still underway.

“We’re pulling out of one to jump into another,” he said.

Bertino offered a motion to end the session before it had really started, but it failed because of a lack of a second. Commissioner President Jim Bunting concurred with Bertino.

On the other side were Commissioners Joe Mitrecic, representing Ocean City, and Bud Church, representing West Ocean City south of Route 50, who argued in favor of continuing conversations about the complex, but weren’t yet ready to commit money to the effort.

“I said it in the paper before and I’ll say it again, I’ll vote in favor of the project wherever it’s located, but I never dreamed it would be a completely public enterprise,” Mitrecic said. “Parks and Recreation is already in the tournament business, so I don’t think it’s new and I don’t think it’s a business — I think it’s an extension of what we already do.”

Church thought the effort to derail the talks before county staff had even presented their findings was shortsighted.

Church said he heard the concerns about the government growing to encompass such a new venture, but he said he also saw the potential economic advantages.

“At least review what the staff has put together. I think the citizens deserve to hear the proposal — I’d hate to miss an opportunity because we said we didn’t want to hear it.”

Somewhere in the middle were commissioners Ted Elder, Diana Purnell and Merrill Lockfaw.

Lockfaw, representing Pocomoke City, wanted to see the southern end of the county represented in the conversation.

“If we continue the discussions, we need to stop building a one-legged man,” he said. “I’m willing to proceed but I want to be assured that the south end gets proper consideration.”

Both Elder and Purnell expressed concerns about using taxpayer funds for the project, but ultimately voted to allow staff to identify a potential site for the complex. The vote was 5-2 with Bertino and Bunting against.

The outdoor complex would feature at least eight fields set up for sports such lacrosse, softball, soccer, football or Ultimate Frisbee. One field would be designated the “showcase” field, complete with bleachers, concessions and, perhaps, outdoor lighting.

Traveling tournaments would rent the facility in full or in part to host events, and county staff sees potential in sponsorship opportunities, tax revenue from restaurants and hotels and employment gains.

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