City Officials Stress Being Prepared For Market Changes

OCEAN CITY — The two speakers at this year’s Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) Annual meeting were both Ocean City employees who shared an unusual distinction — neither has worked for the city for more than a year and both came here from Fort Pierce, Fla.

Nonetheless, both spoke of a deep fondness for the resort and a need to increase the trust between private and public interests to keep Ocean City thriving by appealing to new markets.

Matthew Margotta, director of planning and community development for Ocean City, was the first to address the OCDC and more than 150 representatives of private industry, property and public officials. Having only started in January and replacing the retired Jesse Houston, Margotta said that some things about the resort were clear from the moment he drove over the Route 50 Bridge.

“Ocean City is developed. It has an existing pattern and it’s also in need of re-development,” he said. “It’s in need of more than a lick of paint.”

Margotta admitted that he has a tendency to go through life with a red pen but he also said that he had no criticism for the job being done by the city and organizations like OCDC.

“I see our elected officials and our appointed officials coming up with good rationale to their decisions,” he said. “That might sound simplistic to you but I can tell you it’s important. It means people are having the long view.”

Another area where Margotta claimed Ocean City stands above its peers is in the private sector, which he said is incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of development and re-development. Those two sides of the coin, public and private interests, will need to work together in the coming years because markets are changing and only an agile resort will remain a tourist destination, he added.

“There’s something that I believe the community needs to get a grasp of and that is the demographic change that is occurring in the country,” said Margotta.

Margotta was vague on exactly what kind of demographic shift Ocean City will have to deal with and admitted as much. His advice was more that private property owners and government officials need to be flexible in the future to deal with the unexpected.

“We need to get ahead of a trend. I’m only bringing it up as a notion right now; I couldn’t define it for you,” he said. “I’m just trying to get that thought out to you and maybe provoke some thought in the community.”

At the core of it, Margotta asserted that there is a “change coming that will affect our market” and it will be up to the city to see if it can continue to compete. The good news, he added, is that organizations like OCDC are filling that critical role of fostering private and public cooperation.

“It’s a paraphrase, a mantra on the planning side that all development is a public-private partnership,” he said.

Much like Margotta, City Manager David Recor came to Ocean City recently from Florida. Recor has been with the resort since last summer and said during his comments that his relationship with Ocean City isn’t entirely professional. As a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, Recor spent a lot of time vacationing on the shore and has roots in the area. He compared where Ocean City is now to where it was 30 years ago.

“The town has experienced development at an unprecedented rate. During this period, I think that the town has managed to maintain its core values,” he said.

Those include goals revolving around “family fun” and “staying safe and clean.” Remaining popular despite the dramatic increase in tourism competition nationwide has also been an impressive feat, he said.

Recor agreed with Margotta’s impressions that the same old status quo will not work in the next decade. If Ocean City doesn’t strive to increase standards as well as offer new things, continued Recor, then it could be overshadowed by competition. Luckily, the city has already taken major steps in staying relevant in a changing world.

“The resort has become more of a year-round community with expanded shoulder season activities and events for both our visitors and our residents alike,” said Recor.

Recor also mentioned the 15-year “strategic vision” that the Mayor and Council formed this year. That vision includes five-year specific goals, a policy and management agenda and overreaching benchmarks for where the resort should look to grow.

“It articulates the vision for Ocean City 2028, a 15-year vision,” he said.

It can’t entirely be the job of public officials, though, with Margotta pointing out that relying solely on government or actively working against it tends to be counter-productive.

“If you expect your government to do everything for you, then you’re going to get what you ask for,” he said.

Instead, Margotta reiterated his request that private and public come together, using organizations like OCDC, and taking full advantage of the grants and opportunities available.