Study Finds No Market For Indoor Sports Arena, But Demand For Outdoor Field Complex

SNOW HILL – A study conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority indicates that while there is a market for an outdoor sports field complex in Worcester County, there’s little demand for an arena or ice rink.

On Tuesday Susan Sieger of Crossroads Consulting  presented the Worcester County Commissioners with the market and economic impact study relating to the establishment of a sports arena. The idea was originally put forward by Hat Trick Consultants of Texas, a company that expressed interest in bringing a minor league hockey team to Delmarva.

Sieger said a number of factors limited demand for an ice rink but stressed that there was a market for a sports field complex that could be used for both tournaments and recreation.

“There was a lot of interest from potential users,” Sieger said.

Hat Trick Consultants originally suggested the development of an arena with a capacity for 8,000 that would feature an adjacent practice facility. At the county’s request, the study conducted by Crossroads Consulting focused on that as well as the merits of an outdoor sports field complex.

During the course of the study, Sieger said she and her associates spent a significant amount of time looking at what facilities were already in the immediate area. While local arena options include the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, Crown Sports Center and the Ocean City Convention Center, other facilities within the region are located in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Virginia.

Sieger said an array of interviews were conducted with the potential users of an indoor arena — universities, theater companies, performers, sports teams, etc. — as well as with the potential users of a sports field complex — club teams, universities, tournament companies, etc. Those interviews revealed that those who would use an indoor arena were worried about the limited corporate base, as that would reduce potential sponsorships, as well as the area’s fluctuating population.

“That was considered a risk by a lot of promoters,” Sieger said.

The fact that an arena in Worcester County would compete with the facilities in Ocean City and Salisbury was also considered a concern.

Though the arena was originally discussed in connection with a minor league hockey team, Sieger said the current trend was for farm teams to be located in close proximity to their major league teams.

While an arena would face several market challenges, Sieger said an outdoor sports complex had opportunities associated with it.

“We’re really focusing on the strengths there,” she said, adding that youth sports went on even during economic downturns. “Youth sports have fared quite well. People will do for their kids.”

She said the establishment of an athletic complex near Ocean City would encourage people to turn a sports tournament trip into a vacation. She pointed out that the area could easily accommodate out-of-town visitors.

“This market is mature in dealing with tourism,” she said.

Sieger said the sort of complex that there was a market for was something with eight to 10 tournament quality rectangular fields. They would need to be suitable for both tournament and recreational play. The complex would ideally feature concessions, restrooms, Wi-Fi access and support space. Sieger said the challenges would be ensuring adequate parking and on-site traffic management.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked whether the study had taken into account who was managing the complex and whether it was run by the county or a private entity.

“Right now it’s not predicated on any particular operating strategy…,” she said. “That will be further developed in the next stage when we talk about operations.”

Bertino also said Sieger’s presentation made it seem as if the north end of the county was preferable for a complex.

“In a perfect world, you want to be darn close to within 10 miles within a critical mass of hotels and retail and restaurant,” Sieger replied.

She could not provide an estimate on how large of a property would be needed for the sort of athletic complex being proposed. Sieger explained that that would be considered in the next stage of the process, a Phase 2 study. According to Sieger, that study — which will be funded by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Department of Commerce — will look at site parameters, provide an estimate of potential usage and weigh the economic benefits of an athletic complex.

“One of the key factors from a state perspective also is to give an estimate of economic and fiscal benefits — spending, jobs and earnings and what that will generate in your community as well as any additional tax revenues,” Sieger said.

According to a release issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority Tuesday, the Phase 2 study is pending the approval of the Worcester County Commissioners. Thomas Kelso, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the agency had been happy to help with the initial study.

“We look forward to working with our partners to gather additional insight on the sports field complex so they can decide where they’d like to go with this project,” Kelso said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.