SNOW HILL – A feasibility study exploring the merits of a hockey arena in northern Worcester County is expected to begin next month.
Just about a year after the idea of a bringing a minor league hockey team to Worcester County was first discussed, funding streams have been approved and a feasibility study is set to begin. On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners passed a formal resolution accepting a grant from the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund that will help pay for the $47,600 study.
“We’d just been in a holding pattern because we knew certain things at the state level needed to take place,” said Merry Mears, the county’s director of economic development.
The resolution passed this week enables the county to accept the $25,000 grant and in turn give it to the Maryland Stadium Authority to help fund the study. The study, which will be performed by Crossroads Consulting, is being paid for through contributions from Worcester County, Hat Trick Consultants, the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Mears said lining the funding up took time but that by working with the state the county was keeping its costs down.
“It took the fall to get that done,” she said.
According to Mears, the phase one study will evaluate market demand for a minor league hockey arena that would accommodate between 5,000 and 8,000 spectators. The arena would also include an adjacent ice rink and an outdoor sports complex that could be used for youth and amateur tournaments.
Mears expects the study to take six to eight months.
“If any one of those components seem viable,” she said, “they’ll enter into phase two.”
That second study would take another six to eight months but would be entirely funded by the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Mears said that Hat Trick Consultants, the company that first suggested bringing a minor league hockey team to the area, was still interested and planned to visit the area again during the course of the study. She added that as the county had recently created a sports marketing partnership with Ocean City and Wicomico County, the time was right to look at a potential arena.
She stressed that the county had no interest in pursuing the concept if it would hurt the existing convention centers in Ocean City and Wicomico County.
“The feasibility study is our way of doing due diligence,” she said. “We’re doing this study to understand if such an arena would have an adverse effect. We don’t want that to happen.”
The commissioners voted 4-1, with Chip Bertino opposed, to pass the funding resolution. Bertino said he opted not to support it because he didn’t feel the arena had a place in Worcester County.
“I don’t agree with using taxpayer money to fund studies for something the county’s not going to be a part of,” he added.
Hat Trick Consulting President Mike Barack had said previously his company wanted to be involved in creating what he called the Worcester County Event Center, a professional sports and entertainment area. He estimated 125-130 events per year could be held in the venue.
“It could be way more than that if we tie in with high schools and other community entities,” he said last April.