WEST OCEAN CITY — With an eye on accomplishing two specific and intertwined needs in the community, an Ocean City church is exploring the opportunity to develop a combined seasonal workforce housing project and a sports complex on a vast site in West Ocean City.
For about 10 years, the Ocean City Baptist Church (OCBC) has been exploring potential uses for a 27-acre site it owns behind the outlets in West Ocean City and adjacent to its Seaside Christian Academy campus. Already, a portion of the site is home to the OCBC’s Upward Soccer program and that area could be expanded to include several fields and other indoor-outdoor amenities capable of hosting large regional tournaments.
In a second phase further down the road, the OCBC is hoping to develop the balance of the property with two dormitory-style housing facilities each two stories high capable of housing as many as 150 seasonal summer workers, many of whom come to Ocean City on J-1 work and travel visas. The OCBC is already considerably involved with the J-1 program in the resort, offering free meals, guidance and ministry to hundreds of the student-workers throughout the summer.
At a time when Worcester County is exploring a youth sports complex capable of hosting large outdoor tournaments and events eight or nine months out of the year and the Town of Ocean City is exploring its own options as it attempts to rebrand itself as a youth sports tournament and camp destination, the OCBC’s proposed project could help meet both needs.
While the study commissioned by Worcester County to determine the need for a sports complex somewhere in the county’s north end envisioned a seasonal outdoor facility, the OCBC’s project includes a 50,000-square-foot gymnasium and activity center on site capable of hosting tournaments and events all year long. OCBC church leader and Endless Summer Surf Shop owner Joe “Salty” Selthoffer said this week the Crossroads study commissioned by the county envisioned 12 to 14 events in the first three years. Selthoffer said the proposed OCBC complex could, and likely would, produce events every month all year long.
“If we do the indoor gym as planned, were going to run all year long,” he said. “We can exceed the expectations of the county’s study. We’ll be running events in the winter with tournaments in January, February and March at a time when Ocean City and the resort area needs visitors and heads in beds. The important part of this is we’re going to host our own events.”
To be sure, Selthoffer can bring his own considerable contacts in the youth sports industry to the table. He was responsible for bringing a major volleyball tournament series to Ocean City in the past and has a rolodex filled with contacts in the industry. He will also call on various partners and major players in the youth sports industry to bring their resources to the table.
While Selthoffer brings his extensive knowledge and resources to the table, the concept and vision largely belongs to OCBC Pastor Sean Davis, who said this week the conceptual plans including the sports complex in the first phase and the seasonal housing element in a second phase, represented a culmination of sorts for his vision for the property.
Developing an off-island seasonal housing dormitory for many of those who often find themselves living in cramped, overcrowded quarters with often less than scrupulous landlords could be an extension of the OCBC ministry. Davis said this week the church envisions accomplishing both goals, the intents of which are intertwined.
“We saw a real need in our community,” he said. “I have two loves with one being Jesus Christ and the other being sports. Sports are a universal language and most people are impacted by sports in one way or another. How can I use my second love to tell people about my first love? We have 27 acres of land here and there is a great opportunity to accomplish both.”
Heretofore, developing the 27-acre property that runs roughly behind the outlet stores in West Ocean City from the Baja Amusements go-cart complex to the west to Golf Course Road to the east with a combined seasonal housing dormitory and sports complex has been merely a vision for Davis and the church. However, they are now prepared to take the next step. Davis and Selthoffer have met with the Atlantic Group about developing preliminary plans for the multi-purpose project and how best to develop the 27-acre property to best meet their needs, and the needs of the community.
While there is no definitive price tag this early on, the project will clearly not come cheap. The OCBC is offering the land and the leadership to bring the project to fruition, but it will depend largely on local, county and state grants. Selthoffer said this week the next step in the process will be presenting the conceptual plans to Ocean City, Worcester County and even state officials for their blessing, and perhaps more importantly their financial support.
Selthoffer explained the vision as a three-legged stool of sorts with one leg being the ownership of the land, another leg being the management of the tournaments and events, and a third leg being the costs of developing the project. The OCBC already has the first two legs of the stool and is now seeking support for the third and final leg.
As far as the second phase goes, Davis said the church’s intention for the long-vacant property has always included some type of seasonal workforce housing, but some events in Ocean City this summer reinforced the notion. In August, as many as 20 Irish J-1 students were evicted after it was determined they were living in seasonal housing that exceeded the town’s maximum occupancy codes. That incident was just one of which that was reported and many similar housing situations go undocumented.
“When we heard about the need for more stable seasonal housing, we thought we have the perfect opportunity with this piece of property,” said Davis. “We bounced around a lot of ideas and we thought this was the best way to utilize this property to help these kids. God has given us this land we’re sitting on and we want to utilize it to a greater purpose.”
That greater purpose includes a sports complex capable of hosting local and regional tournaments with outside fields for soccer and lacrosse, for example, and indoor facilities including gymnasiums, classrooms and other facilities for clinics and camps. The combined seasonal workforce housing and sports complex project could fill two crucial needs in the community, according to Selthoffer.
“We’re offering a solution,” he said. “We think it’s an aggregate solution. It would meet two demands in the community including more seasonal housing and athletic fields. It’s a solution for the community by the community.”
The OCBC’s conceptual project is clearly faith-driven as a means to advance the church’s ministry, but that is only part of the equation. Davis said the workforce housing would be open to American students as well as the foreign J-1 visa students regardless of their race or religion. Davis said it could be a means to close some gaps and eliminate some misconceptions.
“We’re commanded by the scriptures to take the gospel to the whole world,” he said. “Well, the world is a much smaller place now and we have an opportunity to reach out and make a difference.”
Davis said the Ocean City Baptist Church served over 2,500 free, hot meals to international student workers this past summer. In addition, the church offers ministry, teaching and mentoring and even surf lessons for hundreds of the seasonal workers. If the OCBC is successful in developing the seasonal housing and the sports complex at the West Ocean City location, could add even more offerings for the international students and their American counterparts.
“We can help bring the world together,” he said. “A lot of these kids are vulnerable. We can offer them a friendly face, a hot meal and a safe, secure place in which to live while they’re here. That’s why we want to manage it. This can continue our vision of sharing Christ.”
Selthoffer said Ocean City has become somewhat of a melting pot during the summer with student workers from dozens of countries in the resort. He said some leave culturally enriched with a greater appreciation for America while many do not. The combined seasonal housing and sports complex project could be a means to improve on the latter.
“For those 90 or 100 days, the whole world is in our backyard,” he said. “We had students from 45 different countries in our church this summer. Not all of them are Christian and that doesn’t matter. They showed up at our church and we offered them meals and guidance. This is an opportunity to expand on that ministry. It’s also an opportunity to send them home with a different perspective of the U.S. and Ocean City.”
Davis said the seasonal housing complex could host as many as 150 student workers. The OCBC would also hire as many as 20 interns who would live on the property and act as residential assistants of sorts. Those interns would monitor activities at the seasonal housing and expand on the church’s ministry at the same time.
“We could have the opportunity to have a large number of seasonal workers under one roof,” he said. “We can teach them how to safely ride a bike in Ocean City and the rules of the road, we can teach them about rip currents and the other dangers they might face while they are here. It’s about our ministry, but it’s also about looking out for these kids.”