OCEAN CITY – An eerie calm and quiet pervaded the typically bustling Trimper’s Amusement Park early Wednesday morning as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley toured the historic landmark at the foot of the Boardwalk hours before it opened as part of an effort to ensure the park doesn’t go quiet permanently in the near future.
When O’Malley toured Trimper’s Amusement Park with members of the family and a host of local elected officials among others, what he did not see and hear were the usual bustling crowds and the cacophony of sounds including laughter, screams and the tinny music from the historic Carousel and the grinding and clanking of the many rides, which would be cranked up in a few short hours.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan noticed the quiet and its irony on a day when the governor was on hand to discuss the future of the park. He commented to family patriarch Granville Trimper about the early morning calm.
“Granville, I don’t think it’s ever been more quiet here,” he said. “It’s almost eerily quiet.”
Faced with staggering tax increases on the amusement park property, the Trimper family is considering closing the historic park, or at least considerably downsizing it, after the summer season. Fueled largely by a seemingly unquenchable desire to redevelop old property in the resort with shiny new condominiums, the property value assessments for the park have risen by 163-percent over the last three years, increasing the property taxes owed by the family business by over $500,000 during the same period.
While the family owned and operated business clings to the same values and the basic price structure in place generations ago, the dramatic increase in property tax on the site coupled with the associated rise in the cost of doing business has landed the historic amusement park in the red, leaving company officials considering shutting it down after nearly 120 years.
In a letter to O’Malley this spring, company Vice President Doug Trimper said the family is strongly considering closing the park, which has been synonymous with Ocean City for several generations. Trimper said the biggest factor in the decision has been the increased property tax assessment, which went from $29.6 million in 2004 to $77.9 million in 2007. In addition, there appears to be some inter-family squabbling about the future of the park among family members on the park’s board of directors.
“Trimper’s Rides of Ocean City is preparing an exit strategy,” said the letter sent this spring to O’Malley from Doug Trimper. “We are being forced out by taxation.”
On Wednesday, the governor heard first hand from family members just how dire the situation has become.
“I’m the last grandchild and I don’t want to be the Trimper that closes this place,” Granville Trimper told the governor. “Nobody wants to stay more than my family, but it can’t continue the way it is.”
O’Malley assured the Trimpers he grasped the importance of somehow saving the park, but that he was uncertain just what the state’s role should be. The Trimper family has appealed the most recent assessment of the property, and until that process has run its course, it remains uncertain just what action, if any, should be taken.
“I know you’ve made your case to the state board of assessments and we’re going to wait until we see the outcome of that appeal before we take any firm action,” he said. “Our posture is one where we’re in a wait-and-see mode, but in the meantime, we certainly want to keep the dialogue open and listen to possible solutions. I think this should be protected as a historic site.”
Granville Trimper explained the property was reassessed at its highest and best use, and that if some relief isn’t afforded to the park, the family might be forced to consider succumbing to the pressure to redevelop the site. He also warned about the loss of some of the attractions of the town at the expense of more residential development.
“We feel it would be far better than another two blocks of condos,” he said. “If we’re not careful, there is not going to be anything to do for the people in those condos.”
Later, the tour moved to the inside portion of the park that holds the historic carousel that has occupied the site for well over 100 years. Granville Trimper described some of the early days of the park including a time during World War II when blackouts caused the shutting down of the outside rides and the inside portion was blocked off by board preventing any light to escape.
O’Malley, who vacationed in Ocean City as a child and returns now with his own family, said he grasped the historic significance of Trimper’s and what it means to the state.
“I know how important this place is,” he said. “I came here as a child and I’ve brought my own children here. It’s an important part of what makes Ocean City so special.”