Ocean City Today

Sports complex gets even more so

County officials unaware of resort’s developing interest
By Brian Gilliland | Nov 22, 2017

(Nov. 24, 2017) Several county elected and other officials said this week they had no knowledge of Ocean City’s interest in constructing an outdoor sports complex, as they continue their own efforts to build a facility somewhere in Worcester.

County Administrator Harold Higgins and Kelly Shannahan, assistant county administrator, both said they were unaware of the resort’s interest, as were County Commissioners Bud Church, Jim Bunting and Chip Bertino.

Merry Mears, director of economic development, said she “heard some rumblings” about Ocean City’s interest, but has also been watching similar processes play out in Sussex County, Delaware and Cecil County at the northern tip of the Eastern Shore.

Functionally, Worcester County is years ahead of the resort’s effort, as the commissioners have had two studies performed and spent about $15,000 toward the effort, while Ocean City included it in a planning document, tagged for future conversation.

The state has also made contributions, as the Maryland Stadium Authority, the department that oversees such ventures, has also contributed toward one of the studies of the complex in Worcester. County staff developed the other study, after finding the state analysis to be “overly optimistic.”

The state’s commerce department has also contributed, along with Hat Trick consultants, who originally pitched the idea to the county.

Both studies found the complex to be a viable concept in terms of spurring economic activity, but coming up a bit short on the operations side.

For the first three years of operation, county staff estimated 12-14 tournaments could be held drawing fewer than 40,000 participants and spectators total, and generating between 14,400 and 21,000 hotel stays.

Based on these numbers, they projected revenues of $210,000 against $393,000 in expenses, leaving a deficit of $183,000.

For that cost, however, the total economic impact on the coastal economy shows almost $2.9 million in additional room rentals, $1.8 million in food and beverage sales and about $1.2 million in miscellaneous spending, for nearly $5.9 million in economic activity.

If the resort were to involve itself, it could make use of the Maryland Stadium Authority study, which is a public document paid for with taxpayer money.

Locally, it would likely find the landscape unchanged from the ongoing county debate, with opponents and proponents holding their ground.

“If it’s a private enterprise, I have no problem. If some entrepreneur wants to build it, then it’s fine. If it’s a public-private partnership — that I have a problem with,” Bertino said.

Bertino has been on the record as against the project since it began as a concept for a hybrid sports stadium and outdoor field complex about two years ago.

Bunting, similarly, has been against government involvement in the project, and referenced using the mechanisms of government against a resort proposal.

“There would be an approval process for a complex in the north end of the county that the county commissioners could be involved in. I plan to listen to the comments of the planning commission, among others, through that process,” Bunting said.

Mears, for her part, feels that the project would be a boon to Worcester wherever it was located.

“Our study said the best place to put the complex was within 10 miles of the critical mass of people, which is Ocean City. If we hang it in the center of that critical mass, I don’t really see the negatives here,” Mears said. “I don’t see pride of ownership, because the rising tide will lift all boats.”

She praised the resort’s assertiveness.

“Traditionally, Ocean City seeks opportunity and capitalizes on it. It’s not surprising. I’d just love to be a part of the development,” Mears said.

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