Trimper’s Rides Makes 2008 Commitment

OCEAN CITY – Trimper’s Rides, the beleaguered Ocean City landmark and cornerstone of the downtown area, will be open for business as usual next summer, just has it has for nearly the last 120 years, but unresolved issues continue to curb any enthusiasm for its future beyond 2008.

Trimper’s Rides officials announced yesterday the historic amusement park at the foot of the Boardwalk near the Inlet in Ocean City would be open for the summer of 2008. In a prepared statement released yesterday, Vice President Doug Trimper announced the park would be open next year as usual, but the statement did not include any allusions about the future of the park beyond 2008.

“The park will remain open for the summer of 2008 with the hope that the next few months will produce a survivable tax environment, which will enable us to continue beyond that point,” the statement from Trimper reads. “It was decided that, at present, a slow, deliberate approach to a solution was the most prudent course of action in the best interest of the company.”

Faced with stable, if not stagnant revenues and staggering property tax assessment increases, Trimper’s officials announced last spring the summer of 2007 could be the last for the Ocean City landmark. The announcement touched off a wave of emotion from long-time visitors and residents alike, many of whom have visited the historic park for generations, and prompted local and state officials to explore ways to relieve the company’s onerous tax burden or find an alternative solution to saving the park.

Fueled largely by an unquenchable desire to redevelop old property in the resort, the property assessments for the historic park rose 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 landed the historic amusement park in the red, forcing company officials to consider shutting it down after nearly 120 years.

In a letter to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley last spring, Doug Trimper said the family was 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.

The announcement touched off a multi-pronged effort to explore ways to save the historic park. O’Malley visited Trimper’s Rides in July and promised to explore alternative solutions for the park including the possibility of declaring it a historic district. On a parallel path was Trimper’s appeal with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) on the park’s most recent reassessments.

While all of the appeals have not yet been exhausted, the Trimpers did get good news on at least some of the company’s 24 individual properties in September. The appeals led SDAT to reduce the assessments and consequently the property taxes owed on a handful of the properties, saving the company an estimated $470,000 after the reduction. The savings on the 2007/2008 tax bill alone will equal about $78,000.

However, the reductions applied only to some of the company’s downtown holdings as well as some storage facilities in West Ocean City and did not address the lynchpin piece of property on which the heart of the historic amusement park sits. The Trimpers are still moving forward with an appeal on the centerpiece properties, which have now advanced to Maryland Tax Court.

“With appeals of the property tax increase still ongoing due to the backlog of cases in the tax court, it was difficult to make a decision on how to cope with the rising cost of staying in business,” Trimper’s statement reads.

In the meantime, the effort to find an alternative solution to the park’s tax woes continues, although not at a rapid pace. From the beginning, state and local officials have suggested exploring a historic designation for the amusement park, which could provide some tax relief in light of the fact such a designation could curtail any major redevelopment of the property in the future. Also under consideration is establishing other creative ways to provide tax relief for the properties including a special enterprise zone for the unique business.

However, progress on those alternatives has been slow, which has put a damper on the future of the park beyond next year.

“Efforts are still ongoing with city, county and state officials with the hope of getting them to create some type of amusement enterprise zone that would change the way the property is taxed,” Trimper said. “Since there has been no sign of any legislation at this point, any optimism about continuing the historic park is guarded at best.”

When the news came out about the park’s future, the family was inundated with a wave of letters, phone calls and emails from loyal supporters and the Trimpers collectively thanked them in the statement released yesterday.

“We hope that the end result will be the survival of at least some part of our historic park, allowing us to entertain the children of future generations,” the statement reads.

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