Ocean City Today

Water tower golf course ad scores a bogey with Gehrig

By Greg Ellison | May 17, 2018
Courtesy of: Jim Parsons Branding the 64th Street water tower to promote the Eagle’s Landing Golf Course engendered a prolonged discussion regarding fair market practices during the City Council meeting on Tuesday.

(May 18, 2018) Branding the 64th Street water tower to market the city-owned Eagle’s Landing Golf Course was deemed “borderline unethical,” by Councilman John Gehrig on Tuesday.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jim Parsons, Public Works chief deputy director, presented plans for painting and rehabbing the million-gallon spheroid tank this fall.

“The town has six water tower storage tanks and with the challenging coastal environment … to keep those tanks in … good shape, we paint fairly often,” he said.

Parson said the fiscal year 2019 water enterprise fund includes $250,000 to finance the maintenance project.

Parsons presented a slide presentation of current water tanks, including a conceptual rendering of a golf ball design featuring the Eagle’s Landing logo, while noting his department’s purview ends at operations and maintenance.

“We don’t really care what the outside of this tank looks like,” he said. “We’ll paint it however you want to paint it.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca said although Eagle’s Landing is not currently yielding a profit, painting its logo on the high visibility water tower, designed to replicate a golf ball and tee, could boost the fiscal picture.

“I’m a big proponent of a golf ball on a tee on Route 90,” he said. “It will improve the performance of an asset we own.”

Moreover, DeLuca said the golf-themed visual might provide a marketing boon for the 16 other courses in the region.

“This will showcase Ocean City as a premier golf destination,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Knight, who seconded a motion from DeLuca to research costs and design options, had been opposed to the concept but embraced it after researching the financial viability of the golf industry.

“It was off a few years, but now it is on the uptick,” she said.

Knight said the water tower paint scheme should include the Ocean City logo.

While expressing approval for the design theme, Councilman Matt James also requested pricing for other options, starting with the blue hue used currently.

City Manager Doug Miller said he could provide costs for a spectrum of choices.

Gehrig took a different bent on using the water tower as a marketing vehicle for Eagle’s Landing.

“So you want to market a town business on a town asset?” he said. “We own a … business that competes with partners of ours that are privately owned.”

Gehrig also asked what marketable value the highly visible water tower might hold.

“There certainly is a financial value to that exposure,” he said. “We could sell that and that’s what we squashed.”

In early March, the council voted 5-2, with Gehrig and Councilman Wayne Hartman dissenting, to reject a proposal from Coca-Cola, which has a beverage franchise contact with Ocean City through Jan. 2022, to brand the 64th Street tank.

At that time, Special Events superintendent Frank Miller said in addition to covering most painting costs, the soft drink company would pay a yet-to-be-negotiated yearly fee over the remaining terms of its contract, which could total up to $150,000.

Opposing the Coca-Cola pitch was DeLuca, who in March called the proposal a “sellout,” while suggesting Eagle’s Landing as an alternative.

On Tuesday, Gehrig renewed opposition to promoting the city-owned course, in light of the large number of area golf facilities.

“It’s almost like the mob [and] we’re dictating our own rules,” he said. “Some people may say we’re competing unfairly.”

Gehrig continued the back and forth with DeLuca, although neither party altered the other’s view.

“We have an asset that is maybe a high dollar … and we’re not even willing to entertain offers to see what it’s worth,” Gehrig said. “I respect you a lot, but I think you’re wrong on this one.”

Echoing earlier agreement with Gehrig’s reservations was Hartman, who expressed concern the water fund would finance the project.

“For us to … spend tax payer’s dollars … for the mere hope of our golf course becoming more profitable … that’s where private enterprise comes in,” he said.

Hartman expressed disappointment the council opted away from potentially profitable partnerships with private business.

“If we’re going to put a logo up there, what’s the difference between a family friendly beverage or … a golf course?” he said.

Councilman Dennis Dare said after the city began marketing golf packages to boost shoulder season tourism decades ago the sport began to bloom on the shore.

“We went from having one other golf course in the area in the 1980s to having 16 courses now,” he said. “We formed a golf industry.”

Despite the dissension, the council voted unanimously to revisit the discussion after obtaining a true rendering and costs estimates.

Parsons said prior to addressing exterior improvements, the water tank would be drained and inspected for rust.

“There is working hardware inside these things,” he said. “I’m glad we started early.”

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