The majority of the Worcester County Commissioners got it right this week when they voted for moving ahead with preliminary plans on a potential county-owned sports complex.
This week’s vote was not a commitment to build rather just an approval to continue to pursue the possibility of purchasing a piece of property to operate such a facility, sporting eight grass fields, in Worcester County. The motion — approved by a 5-2 vote despite vocal opposition from Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting — merely allows Worcester County Economic Development Director Merry Mears to pursue leads on possible land for a new complex. She will develop a list of property options and price ranges based on her research.
This is a logical step in the process. As County Commissioner Bud Church put it, “This is not a motion to spend money, this is a motion to proceed.”
Considering significant money was allocated earlier this year to evaluate the economic need and impact of an outdoor sports facility, as well an arena, it’s a logical next step for the county to see this concept through to the end. Part of the process should be examining all facets of operating such a facility. Taking the next step in evaluating potential sites is logical.
At this week’s meeting, county staff members presented what they believe was a more realistic economic snapshot of the proposed facility. They reported to the commissioners their belief the $25 million economic benefit outlined by a consulting group earlier this year was not realistic. The county’s own analysis found that an eight-field facility would cost about $9 million to build with annual revenue — based on 12-14 sports tournaments a year — estimated at $210,000 with annual expenses about $400,000. That means the facility would operate at a significant loss each year. That understandably so bothered some commissioners. That deficit, however, would need to be balanced against the economic impact of about 14,400 hotel room bookings and restaurant and retail sales totaling about $5.8 million per year.
There are a lot of unknowns with such a facility and there’s an ideology present among many that the county should not be operating in private enterprise. That’s understandable and ultimately could be the philosophy that carries the day in the end.
However, it’s premature at this point to just shelve the initial study touting the economic benefits of such a facility without further exploration. That’s done all too often in government. Study a project or proposal, review the results and simply push it aside while heads are scratched and questions without answers abound.
Youth sports is a major industry and Ocean City as well as Worcester and Wicomico counties already benefit greatly from these sorts of tournaments. Those positives are realized without a ton of effort on behalf of local governments.
There could be a significant benefit to such a facility being built in Worcester County at a suitable location but until all the information is collected and finances figured out it’s an unknown. The county was right to keep this issue moving ahead for now until those questions are answered and specifics realized.