OCEAN CITY – With one big holiday weekend under its belt already in the summer of 2007, it appears it is business as usual for the historic Trimper’s Rides at the foot of the Boardwalk, but much is going on behind the scenes to prevent this season from being the Ocean City landmark’s last.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors poured into the resort for Memorial Day last weekend and many of them visited the nostalgic Trimper’s Rides as part of their holiday tradition, just as they have done for generations. What many of them did not know, however, is that they might have been enjoying the ritual for one of the last times.
Trimper family members have said for years staggering tax increases fueled by increased assessments on the value of the land have threatened the historic park, which has occupied the site for 120 years, but this year the issue has moved from threat to reality.
Fueled by an unquenchable thirst to redevelop old property in the resort with shiny new condominiums, the property assessments for the park have risen by 163 percent in the last three years, increasing the property taxes paid by the family business by $500,000 in the same period.
As a result, the family, which has been in fixture in Ocean City since the beginning 120 years ago, is considering closing or selling the amusement park after this year, or at the very least, downsizing it from its current configuration. The very real threat of this summer being the last for Trimper’s Rides has touched off massive effort on several state and local levels to save the landmark attraction.
In a letter to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in April, company vice president Doug Trimper wrote, “Trimper’s Rides of Ocean City is preparing an exit strategy. A state fixture since 1890, the park has been entertaining generation after generation of children ever since. We are being forced out by taxation.”
The governor has responded by directing his tourism department staff to explore ways of keeping the park through some sort of tax relief or abatement. Maryland Assistant Secretary of Tourism Hannah Byron said this week her office is considering drafting legislation to help save the historic amusement park.
“The governor has directed my office to work on solutions to save this state treasure and keep Trimper’s in operation,” Byron said.
A concerted effort on the state level to find a remedy to the Trimper’s situation is fueled in large part by strong support from several sources on the local level.
The Worcester County Commissioners early in May voted to send a letter of support on behalf of Trimper’s to the appropriate state officials, and the Ocean City Mayor and Council voted last week to do the same.
“The loss of Trimper’s Rides in downtown Ocean City would forever change the landscape of Ocean City and would deny our children and grandchildren the opportunity to enjoy what so many of us have loved about visiting the family-friendly resort for so many years,” the letter from the commissioners reads. “Therefore, we support any relief or special tax consideration that can be granted to Trimper’s Rides to ensure their continued survival.”
It remains to be seen what remedy can be achieved to save the historic park at any level, but it appears it won’t go away because of any lack of effort on the part of the state and local government.
Delegate James Mathias (D-38B), who represents Ocean City and all of Worcester County, said this week he has been in close contact with Trimper officials and had a meeting with them just last week.
Mathias said as a long-time visitor to the resort before serving as mayor of Ocean City for 10 years, he understands the importance of saving Trimper’s Rides and is making every effort, along with his fellow District 38B Delegate Norman Conway, to find some legislative remedy to the situation.
“They know how I feel about it and I’m ready to do whatever I can from my position in this,” he said. “We had a long talk about pursuing some remedy or solution to this problem and I am ready to go to bat for them.”
Mathias said some possibilities have been discussed including a possible historic designation for the park, which would offer some tax relief for the property as long as it remains an amusement park. Other options floated include passing along similar tax incentives or abatements offered to farmers, or golf courses, for example, for keeping vast areas free of new development.
“We need to take a close look at this in terms of policy,” he said. “This situation raises some very timely and interesting questions. As an elected official, I’m certainly willing to do my part to see this is addressed.”
Another possibility being discussed is creating a mechanism for setting a cap on increased assessments for commercial properties, similar to the Homestead cap, which protects owner-occupied residential property from exorbitant tax increases.
“There is nothing like that in place for commercial property,” said Mathias. “That’s something that we might need to take into consideration when it comes to these assessments. We’re in an unprecedented time of increasing property values.”