OCEAN CITY — The highly anticipated study to determine the feasibility of sports complex to help rebrand Ocean City as a youth sports destination has taken its first early steps with preliminary interviews with resort tourism officials.
During Monday’s Tourism Commission meeting, a discussion of the town’s tourism strategic plan and the effort to expand tourism inevitably came around to the discussion of the pending study to determine the potential for developing a youth sports complex somewhere in the north end of Worcester. Throughout much of the last year, resort officials have expressed a desire to pursue the growing youth sports market to expand tourism in the off-season months.
In March, the Mayor and Council approved a request to initiate a study of a potential sports complex, either indoor, outdoor or a combination of both, to attract more youth sports leagues and tournaments.
The Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) already contracts with the private-sector consulting firm Crossroads on studies. In March, the Mayor and Council petitioned the MSA to have Crossroads begin exploring the feasibility of a sports complex in or around the resort area or the north end of Worcester County.
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 does not have the support of the majority of the county’s elected officials.
Crossroads has already begun interviewing city elected officials, various department heads and other stakeholders to determine just what Ocean City is looking to accomplish with its sports marketing and potential youth sports complex, tourism commission chair Matt James said on Monday.
“They’re trying to find out just what we’re looking for,” he said. “Then, they will do the study based on that information.”
Council Secretary and commission member Mary Knight said the preliminary interviews are just part of a larger undertaking.
“It’s going to take a while,” she said. “It’s a long, drawn out process.”
Tourism commission member Michael James said it appeared from the early interviews at least some of the consultants were locking in on the county’s proposed facility as an answer to Ocean City’s sports marketing plans.
“I’m not sure they grasp our concept,” he said. “If they put ballfields down Route 113 somewhere, that won’t help Ocean City at all. It kind of defeats the purpose.”
However, Knight said the Mayor and Council made it clear during preliminary interviews the town was seeking an independent study unique to Ocean City and not a piggyback on the county’s previous study.
“I think every councilmember reiterated your point,” she said. “I think that message was received very clear.”
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. 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 officially, but the same company is now exploring 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.