OC Landmark Could Be Scaled Down In Near Future

OCEAN CITY – Faced with stable, if not stagnant revenues
and staggering property tax assessment increases, an Ocean City landmark and
the cornerstone of the resort for nearly 120 years is facing extinction and
could be preparing for what might be one last summer season.

Trimper’s Rides, at the foot of the Boardwalk, was abuzz
with activity this week as workers repaired and installed rides and splashed a
fresh coat on paint on the buildings and amusements, just as they have done
each May for the last century or so, but it could be the last time the annual
spring cleaning is done at the historic park. Those same workers reportedly got
a notice with their most recent paycheck stating the park’s future was in
doubt.

Fueled largely by an unquenchable thirst to redevelop old
property in the resort with shiny new condominiums, hundreds of which sit empty
and unsold, the property value assessments for the historic park have risen by
a staggering 163-percent over the last three years, increasing the property
taxes owed by the family business by $500,000 over the same period.

The dramatic increase in property tax on the site, along
with the associated increases in the cost of doing business, has landed the
amusement park in the red, leaving company officials to consider shutting it
down.

In a recent letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley,
company Vice President Doug Trimper said the family is strongly considering
closing the historic park, which has been synonymous with Ocean City for
several generations. Trimper said the biggest factor in the decision is the
increased property tax assessment, which went from $29.6 million in 2004 to
$77.9 million in 2007.

“Trimper’s Rides of Ocean City is preparing an exit
strategy,” the letter reads. “A state fixture since 1890 when a Baltimore
tavern owner, Daniel Trimper, and his wife Margaret, migrated to the seashore,
the park has been entertaining generation after generation of children ever
since. We are being forced out by taxation.”

Doug Trimper said the company’s Board of Directors would
regroup after the summer season, likely in October, to decide the fate of the
historic amusement park. Without some sort of relief from the property tax
assessment, which would likely come in the form of some kind of intervention
from the state, the park will not continue to exist. Trimper said he
understands the historic value of the park and the decades of public sentiment
attached to it, but the company is faced with a tough business decision brought
on by staggering tax increases.

“Our overall level of taxation has reached a level where
the income from the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors simply cannot keep
the company out of the red,” he said. “Our stockholders will not allow that
trend to continue.”

Regardless of what the Board of Directors decides for the
future of the entire Trimper’s complex, some form of the historic park will
occupy at least part of the site in the future, according to Doug Trimper. His
father, Granville Trimper, a former Ocean City mayor and patriarch of the
family business, owns some of the property independently from the corporation
and will continue to operate Trimper’s in some form or another in the future.

“My father, Granville Trimper, wholly owns some of the
property along Worcester Street and he is committed to keeping the park and the
family legacy alive,” he said. “He can’t control what happens with the rest of
the property, but he is committed to keeping it alive.”

Trimper pointed out in the letter to the governor the
park’s shortcomings have everything to do with increased taxes and little to do
with any drop-off in the number of visitors annually.

“Trimper’s Rides, as it exists today, will not survive the
decade. Period,” he said. “The world changes and we all must adapt. We are not
facing public disapproval of our product, just government over-taxing.”

Trimper said one potential solution would be to increase
revenue, including raising prices on rides and amusements, but that’s a road
the company is reluctant to take.

“That’s not something we are ready to do,” he said. “Right
now, it’s kind of embarrassing to charge a parent $3 dollars to let their child
go around on a ride for about a minute and a half. Amusement rides at the Florida
State Fair this year were $5 or $6 each. Here in Ocean City, our prices have
been forced up to $2.50 or $3 per ride. If you have two or three kids, they are
not going to get to ride much. We don’t like placing parents in that position.”

There is some potential for relief in the form of a tax
abatement through the appeals process, but Trimper is not holding out much
hope. Park officials had a hearing with the state assessment office just
yesterday and there are other steps in the appeals process that could lead to
state Tax Court.

In the meantime, Trimper and his family are reaching out
to state and local officials for some kind of alternative. The County
Commissioners have tacitly agreed to write a letter of support for the resort
landmark and town officials have implied they will likely do the same. There
could be creative ways to provide some relief to the park in the interest of
keeping it alive including potential Rural Legacy funding or a designation as a
historical landmark, for example.

County Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents Ocean
City, said yesterday she was sick to learn the park could be closing.

“I’m so upset,” she said. “I don’t want them to close.
It’s such an important part of Ocean City history.”

Gulyas called on the state to intervene on behalf of the
landmark.

“There has to be some way to preserve that historic park,”
she said. “I think the state needs to step up with a plan. The property is
assessed on the density, which just isn’t fair. We’ve helped the farmers and
the golf courses in situations like this, so there has to be some way to help
amusement parks. It’s such a unique business, it doesn’t readily fit into any
other category.”

Delegate James Mathias (D-38B), who served as mayor of
Ocean City for 10 years, said he would be glad to work with the Trimper family
and state and local officials to find a solution to the problem. Mathias agreed
there were creative ways to provide relief for the historic business but it
won’t be easy.

“A large tract like this with a cornerstone business for
over 100 years has to be protected, but it may become very difficult,” he said.
“There has to be way to guarantee its long-term preservation. I’d be very happy
to sit down with the Trimper’s, the county, the state and the town of Ocean City
and work through this.”

Mathias said part of the problem is the property is
assessed in terms of its value as real estate and not in terms of its value as
a historic landmark beloved by generations.

“It’s priceless in terms of its value to Ocean City, but
the formula could be out of whack for a large-scale amusement park,” he said.
“It’s not like a big real estate deal. They’re not exchanging at $500,000,
they’re exchanging at a couple of dollars for a ride or an amusement just like
the guy on the other corner is exchanging a couple of dollars for a box of
popcorn or saltwater taffy.”

 

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