Worcester Commits Funds To Proposed Arena Study

SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials agreed to have the Maryland Stadium Authority proceed with a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a 6,200-seat sports arena in the area.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted 5-1 Tuesday to contribute $15,000 toward a Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) study. The study, to be performed by Crossroads Consulting Services, will look at the viability of the sports arena a Texas company has proposed for northern Worcester County.

“I think it’s a worthwhile project to explore,” Commissioner Bud Church said. “I think it’s money well spent.”

Though the study will cost $75,000, the MSA will fund $30,000 and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development will fund $25,000. Hat Trick Consultants, the company that put forth the idea of building an arena and bringing a minor league hockey franchise to the area, will provide the remaining $5,000.

Representatives from Hat Trick first approached county officials last year to discuss the possibility of building a sports arena in the northern section of the county. In April, they met with the commissioners to present their vision of the Worcester County Event Center, a professional sports and entertainment arena they see being home to a minor league hockey team like the Worcester Warblers. Hat Trick officials said a second sport such as lacrosse or basketball, as well as a handful of concerts, would make the arena profitable.

Bill Badger, Worcester County’s economic development director, pointed out Tuesday that though the representatives from Hat Trick have proposed the arena, it would take a public-private partnership to build.

“Hat Trick is a promoter,” he said. “They’re not the developer of the project.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino, the only commissioner to vote against spending $15,000 for the study, expressed concern over the so called public-private partnership Badger referred to.

“I just don’t understand what the public part is going to be,” he said. “I don’t know how we can justify the cost.”

Badger said it was too early in the process to say what the county would be bringing to the partnership.

“This is a marathon project,” he said. “We’re at mile one. This is very premature to discuss what the public portion is.”

Bertino said he was afraid that Hat Trick Consultants weren’t aware that the county wasn’t planning to fund the project.

“I think there’s a miscommunication,” Bertino said. “We have other projects we need to spend money on.”

Church said he remembered when the convention center in Ocean City was first proposed and how many citizens thought the facility would fail.

“There were a lot of naysayers and look at what it is today,” he said. “I think the $15,000 we’re investing is well worth the money. I’d hate to miss this opportunity.”

The study is expected to take six to eight months to complete.