Wicomico Council OKs Stadium Study Funds

OCEAN CITY – With the Shorebirds lease nearing its end at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, Wicomico County is looking to make improvements at the stadium in order for the Shorebirds to renew their lease and possibly attract new business.

Wicomico Recreation Parks and Tourism Director Gary Mackes requested at this week’s meeting a supplemental appropriation to the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism for $8,333.33 to cover one-third of the costs of Phase 1 of an economic impact and improvement feasibility study for Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. The Delmarva Shorebirds and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) will also pay one-third of the total amount of $25,000 for Phase 1.

Phase 1 includes a market analysis, an economic impact study including local and state tax yields, an assessment of requirements to ensure the minor baseball franchise is profitable and consequences if improvements are not completed.

Mackes explained that the Shorebirds team is a leasee of the stadium and the agreement with the county expires in 2015. To ensure that the Shorebirds is a viable business in renewing their lease, there are certain assurances that need to take place now that the stadium is 15 years old.

He added that the MSA is responsible in keeping the sports and entertainment industry viable in the state by assuring an influx of money into the economy and tax generation from activities held at stadiums, convention centers and arenas.

“What they want to do is make sure that the agreements are based on sound practices,” he said. “For example, if the negotiations get to the point where they want things that there is not a return on investment, it makes no sense to make those improvements to the stadium or an arena.”

Mackes said the standard protocol is to attain an economic consultant to do a two-step study. The first step is to study the market and what it takes to make that business viable in a competitive market, and if improvements are made to the facility, what would be the economic impact attained to justify the expense to improving that stadium, convention center or arena.

Wicomico County is currently in partnership with MSA, which is conducting the same study on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. The same consultant company, Crossroads Consulting, would conduct the study for the stadium.

Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich asked who would be responsible for paying the recommended improvements costs following Phase 1.

“Right now, we are looking to borrow moneys to continue the Bennett Middle School project which the county is having trouble affording,” she said.

Mackes responded that improvement costs will be a bridge to cross once it is time for negotiations. He said that Phase 1 provides recommendations, but there will not be “hard costs” until Phase 2 arrives.

“You might find out that once certain things are done you are going to generate more tax money that you will then be able to justify the debt service to make the improvement,” he said. “If you want them [MSA] to help burden the capital costs, and the rule of thumb is 50 percent, we have to do this study with them,” he said.

Council Administrator Matt Creamer added that when the stadium was first built 15 years ago the county did not have the advantage of the MSA’s influence.

“We were doing that as a bunch of country boys on our own,” he said. “I think looking back a pretty good job was done but this is adding real horse power and I think the administration should be commended for proposing to take these steps. This is important.”

The council voted unanimously to approve Mackes request to appropriate the funds in order to conduct the first phase of the feasibility study.