Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 15, 2016

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 15, 2016

Every month or so it seems Berlin is getting ranked on some sort of list. While the sources vary, the lists typically conclude it’s a special small town with an unmistakable charm and a close proximity to the ocean.

One of the most recent honors came from the Smithsonian magazine, which this past spring released its annual list of the best small towns in America. The kicker this year was the listing sponsor chose communities located near national parks in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial.

The Berlin mention included a photo of two wild horses from Assateague with this text: “Perfect for: Those looking for small-town pride and spirit — the destination was given the Maryland Municipal League Achievement Award for Town Spirit in 2015. Main attractions: Explore the “Horses at the Beach” history trail that takes you to several locations in this small town and make sure to check out the historic downtown area. If it looks familiar that’s because it was the setting for Julia Roberts’ character’s hometown in the film Runaway Bride.”

Others listed on or near the East Coast included Dahlonega, Ga.; Bar Harbor, Me.; Bryson City, N.C.; and Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Interestingly enough, however, Berlin did not appear on a “25 Top Maryland Attractions” list through the Maryland Tourism website — On that list, the Ocean City Boardwalk was at the top followed in the top 10 by Assateague Island, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, Smith Island, Ft. McHenry, U.S. Naval Academy, Carroll County Farm Museum, Inner Harbor and Annapolis City Dock.

Ocean City has been waiting many years for a new public boat ramp and it looks like residents in Little Salisbury — long troubled by the current ramp in their neighborhood — should be able to celebrate next spring sometime.

According to a presentation at this week’s Ocean City Mayor and Council  meeting, a tentative completion date for the new mid-town boat ramp has been set for April 1, 2017. Given that timetable and the nature of construction projects, my guess is it will be ready around the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The Mayor and Council on Tuesday accepted the low bid from Murtech Marine of $714,849 for the construction of the new public access boat ramp at 64th Street. The project was originally budgeted for roughly $1.5 million with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) funding 100 percent of the needed dredge work to facilitate the new ramp up to $500,000 and 50 percent of the site work up to $315,000.

What will happen to the current ramp in the Little Salisbury neighborhood off 87th Street? It seems likely it will stay where it is and remain open, but the favorable layout and ease of access at the new facility will cut back on traffic in the residential area significantly.

How much money is being lost as a result of Airbnb’s growth in Ocean City? It’s unknown, but one thing that’s a definite is the town, Worcester County and private rental companies — and probably even hotels — are going to be financially impacted as it grows.

A quick search of the Airbnb site for Ocean City rentals in early May found about 175 properties available for nightly rental. A search on Thursday afternoon around 3 found 365 properties. It’s growing and it’s going to continue to do so as more and more people realize they can privately and without much hassle rent their places a few days a week and make some nice money.

A casual conversation I had with an Airbnb user in Ocean City this week was revealing. It appears the family uses the rental every weekend and sometimes during the week. What the family does is it blocks off the weekends and certain weeks and posts the available dates on Airbnb. So far this summer, the family has recouped about 15 room night payments. It would probably be more but they only rent to families. I don’t know this for certain, but my guess is this Baltimore County resident does not have a rental license and is not going to report the income.

Because of the powerful hotel and real estate lobbying interests in New York City and San Francisco, Airbnb is about to get kicked out of those municipalities. New York City has already passed legislation against these sorts of rentals because it was found 55 percent of the New York City listings were illegal. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature. In San Francisco, the city’s Board of Supervisors agreed to fine the company $1,000 a day for each unregistered host on the online platform. Airbnb is suing the city over that decision.

According to a New York Times article two weeks ago, “Airbnb is in a real bind,” said Bradley Tusk, the campaign manager for Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign who has helped start-ups like Uber navigate New York’s political landscape. “It must choose between making their markets dramatically less valuable and getting rid of a cloud of regulatory uncertainty.”

Ocean City should watch these cities closely, read their laws and then consider dropping the hammer on Airbnb before the financial impact on the area is realized and it’s too late.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.