With the excursion train operation proposed from Berlin to Snow Hill seemingly dead now, Worcester County needs to focus on sports tourism when it comes to economic development.
Sussex County is leaps and bounds ahead of its southern neighbor on this front. Wicomico, too, is well ahead of Worcester on the sports tourism front.
On Tuesday, the Sussex County Council approved a deal with the Sussex Sports Center Foundation to create a 50-acre sports complex consisting of eight fields, a trail and pickleball courts in Georgetown. This project coupled with the existing Sports at the Beach baseball fields and the new DE Turf Sports Complex near Frederica position central Delaware as a force in the world of youth sports tournaments.
Worcester County and Ocean City need to get more into this business. By virtue of its resort nature, Ocean City already reaps the economic benefits of hosting youth tournaments through its St. Patrick’s indoor soccer tournaments in Northside Park, the sand soccer tourneys held in the summer and a variety of other indoor and outdoor sports events throughout the year. Worcester County needs to get involved if it wants to diversify its economy.
The problem seems to be a voting block of sitting Worcester County Commissioners who are shortsighted when it comes to the prospects of a public-private partnership to create a major sports complex in northern Worcester County. There are at least three commissioners who don’t seem to want any part of it because it’s too complex. Discussions of potential locations even hit a snag when the logical choice was considered northern Worcester County because of the need for nearby hotels and restaurants to serve the families who would come here.
Sussex County’s deal with the Sussex Sports Center Foundation is a good precedent to explore. The memorandum states 60 percent of the project will be the foundation’s responsibility with the remainder coming from the government. The county will have seats on the foundation’s board and a clause was put in the contract to protect the public’s assets in the event it’s not successful.
For those who doubt the economic impact of sports tourism, I encourage you to check out HBO’s “Real Sports” segment online on youth sports. It’s from last summer and chronicles the “build it and they will come” trend being seen across the country.
Although it may sound strange, I’m thrilled to see Ocean City suing Worcester County.
The debate over whether Ocean City property owners are paying too much in taxes to support duplicated services off the island has been waged for more than two decades. In fact, a search of this newspaper’s archives found more than 60 stories on the topic dating back to 2001. All of the stories essentially read the same way. Ocean City is unhappy about paying too much in taxes to the county. Worcester County officials, in turn, say nothing can change on that front because it would be unfair to all the non-Ocean City property owners. It’s time to reach some sort of resolution here. A lot of money is at stake.
Although the subject matter can tend to get complicated, all property owners in Worcester County should be interested in how the Worcester County Circuit Court opines on Ocean City’s petition for declaratory judgement against Worcester County.
A key piece of the complaint reads, “This action seeks to require Worcester County to provide either a reduced tax rate, or tax differential, to the taxpayers of Ocean City or a tax rebate to the Town of Ocean City to account for the fact that both Worcester County and the town of Ocean City impose taxes on property owners and taxpayers of Ocean City for the same services and programs, even though it is only the town, not the county, which provided those services and programs to the town’s taxpayers.”