Ocean City Today

Worcester stadium hopes end as Wicomico seeks own team

County to focus on outdoor sports fields, but Pittsville complex could compete
By Brian Gilliland | Apr 13, 2017

(April 14, 2017) Though relegated in February to the regulatory purgatory of “very unlikely,” the effort to build a stadium in Worcester County to house a minor league hockey team ended last week with the announcement by Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver that the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center is recruiting its own minor league ice hockey team.

The hockey team was to be the centerpiece of a multi-sport complex located somewhere in the county, featuring both indoor and outdoor sports fields, meeting areas and retail opportunities.

However, the county wasn’t willing to go it alone on the project, and commissioned a study by the state’s Stadium Authority to evaluate the need for the facility, and its potential audience.

If those conditions were satisfied not only would the authority approve the project, it would contribute money to the cause. However, a challenge the project faced from the outset came from the Ocean City convention center and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, since the authority had contributed funds to both of these projects and could be seen as competition to the Worcester proposal.

In short, the stadium authority didn’t want to compete with itself, which it revealed when the results of the study determined there was limited need for the indoor stadium, but there was potential in the outdoor fields.

“This is a very positive thing for the region, and I’m looking forward to the crowds,” Merry Mears, economic development director for the county, said.

Mears said Worcester’s strength is in the mature hospitality industry Worcester enjoys, and even though the county doesn’t have the year-round population to support a stadium, the year-round population could definitely handle the tourism and hospitality needs the increased regional traffic could bring.

“Our opportunity is in the eight to 10 sports fields being studied,” she said. “We’re looking at soccer and lacrosse fields.”

Michael Frenz, executive director of the stadium authority, said the organization was asked by the county to forgo continuing evaluations of a stadium back in February. He said the authority performs the studies it’s asked to, and the indoor stadium aspect of the Worcester proposal was eliminated from further consideration.

In the meantime, another outdoor sports complex is scheduled to open July 1 in Pittsville, close to the Worcester/Wicomico border. That facility, according to John Barrett, one of the partners responsible for opening the complex, is offering six to eight outdoor fields along with a clubhouse and other amenities.

Barrett and his partners, Jay Phillips and Mitch Parker, have children involved in sports and travel frequently, Barrett said.

“We just thought it’d be great to have something like this in our neck of the woods,” Barrett said.

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