Resort May Fund Youth Sports Study

OCEAN CITY — After considerable debate over the last several weeks, resort officials this week took a necessary first step in the process of potentially rebranding the Ocean City area as a youth sports destination.

For the last several weeks, much of the debate about raising the room tax in Ocean City from 4.5 percent to 5 percent has focused on dedicating a portion of the anticipated revenue to pursuing the burgeoning, billion-dollar youth sports market. Earlier this month, the Mayor and Council did agree to raise the room tax largely following the existing formula that dedicates much a portion of the revenue to advertising and marketing the resort.

However, during that process, the majority of the council expressed a desire to pursue the growing youth sports market with some set-aside from the room tax revenue. That started to come to fruition this week when the Mayor and Council approved a request to initiate a study of a potential sports complex, either indoor, outdoor of a combination of both, to attract youth sports leagues and tournaments.

The Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) already contracts with the private-sector consulting firm Crossroads on such studies. On Tuesday, at the request of Tourism Director Donna Abbott, the council approved having Mayor Rick Meehan send a letter to the MSA requesting a study by Crossroads to begin exploring the feasibility of a sports complex in or around the Ocean City area.

For the record, Ocean City has worked with Crossroads in the past during a study to explore expanding the Roland E. Powell Convention Center a few years back. Crossroads also conducted a similar sports complex study for Worcester County although that project has little traction.

The county’s initial plan was to develop a mid-sized arena to attract a lower-level professional hockey team along with an associated indoor-outdoor sports complex. Abbott said the hockey arena concept was not recommended, although Crossroads did tell the county there was potential for a sports complex somewhere in Worcester to attract the growing youth sports market.

The county never acted on its own Crossroads study for a variety of reasons, but the same company will now explore the possibilities for the town of Ocean City with a separate study. The potential exists for a partnership between the town and the county on a sports complex somewhere off the island, likely in the north end of Worcester, but for now, Ocean City is moving forward on its own path.

“They did a study for Worcester County to explore a hockey arena and outdoor fields,” Abbott told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday. “It was determined the hockey arena was not feasible, but the possibility exists for an indoor-outdoor sports complex.”

The first step in initiating the Crossroads study is having Mayor Rick Meehan send a letter to the MSA requesting it, which the council approved on Tuesday. The study comes with a $49,000 price tag, which will be funded through the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) budget as an extension of the room tax increase.

Meanwhile, Crossroads has already prepared and submitted an outline of its study to the MSA for the potential Ocean City project.

“It is our understanding that the primary purpose of this study is to assess the merits of an indoor fieldhouse from a market and economic perspective and an outdoor field complex that could accommodate youth/amateur leagues and tournaments from an economic perspective,” the proposal reads. “In addition, the study will consider the potential impact that these proposed new sports facilities may have on other existing and planned State-owned assets.”

The Crossroads outline for the Ocean City study does not have any pre-conceived notions, despite a similar study conducted for the county.

“Further, it is our understanding that a primary operating objective of both projects is to generate incremental new economic activity related to sports tourism,” the proposal reads. “Although these projects could potentially be located proximate to each other, it is our understanding that this analysis will be non-site specific. While several research tasks will apply to both the proposed new indoor fieldhouse and outdoor field complex, it is our understanding that each project should be evaluated separately.”

Nonetheless, it appears Crossroads will utilize some of the information and data it collected in the county study for Ocean City’s study where still applicable.

“In addition, we will utilize, and augment as appropriate, the market and economic research previously conducted for a proposed new outdoor sports field complex in Worcester County,” the proposal reads. “As such, the direct new research completed for this study will be relatively limited as it relates to the proposed outdoor field complex as the scope of work will focus on updating the estimated economic and fiscal impacts associated with the project. It is assumed that the previously recommended program for a minimum of eight tournament quality, multi-purpose fields and other related factors will remain the same.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.