OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week signed off on a $25,000 request to fund basketball court flooring at the convention center for a tournament in June, but not before a larger debate about subsidizing private-sector special events with seed money.
During Tuesday’s work session, the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) recommended approval supplying $18,000 to Premier 1 Events to cover the floor rental costs for four basketball courts in the convention center for a youth basketball tournament in the first week of June. In recent years, the tournament has been held at Northside Park and at courts in the south end of the county in Snow Hill, but the event has grown to the point more space is needed.
Last year, the tournament drew around 200 teams and that number is expected to go up this year. As a result, the promoter is looking to add four basketball courts at the convention center. The concept is adding courts at the convention center would make the tournament a uniquely Ocean City event and eliminate the need to schedule games outside town.
Consolidating the event in Ocean City means the teams, and presumably their families and fans, will stay in the resort. In years past, with games held in Snow Hill, for example, some of the teams opt to stay in Salisbury, for example.
“It was split with courts in Ocean City and Snow Hill,” said TAB President Steve Pastusak. “The teams that played down there tended to stay in Salisbury.”
In order to consolidate the tournament in Ocean City, four courts will need to be added at the convention center for that weekend and that comes with a cost. The promoter, through TAB, asked for a contribution of $25,000 from the city to offset that cost. However, after reviewing the request, TAB this week recommended to the Mayor and Council a contribution of $18,000.
“They asked for $25,000, but TAB is not recommending the full amount,” he said. “We’re recommending $18,000. It was fully-funded last year in the interest of seed money up front, but we want to scale that back.”
The allocation of funds through TAB recommendations has been a recurring theme in recent months. The concept is TAB reviews potential special events and makes recommendations to the Mayor and Council. In many cases, TAB recommends funding for new or returning special events as seed money to get them up and running.
In some cases, an event might get a certain funding contribution in the first year or two, and by year three, they have grown to the point they no longer need a city contribution.
“There is a process in place for seed money,” he said. “It’s kind of a three-year process. You gave them $20,000 last year and we’re recommending $18,000 this year. Next year will probably be something less than that, and then that will be the end of it.”
While the council understood the concept of seed money for the June basketball tournament that will allow it to grow and become a uniquely Ocean City event, some questioned the price tag for the court flooring.
“It’s growing,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “I understand the concept. It just seems like a big ask. It seems like a huge request for not much return.”
City officials’ decisions on providing funding for private special events are driven largely by return on investment. That means determining how many room nights are expected and impacts on other businesses. However, Councilman John Gehrig pointed out on Tuesday, as he has in the past, the process isn’t always consistent.
“We need to determine what our policy is,” he said. “Is it strictly return on investment? We can’t arbitrarily change the rules. We’re not making it easier for promoters to bring these events.”
Gehrig also pointed to the June basketball tournament as a means to continue to grow Ocean City as a youth sports marketing destination.
“We had this same conversation about the beer festival,” he said. “TAB vetted this and we’re trying to be a sports destination. I think we need to make it easy for promoters to come to Ocean City and do business in Ocean City.”
However, Councilman Mark Paddack said the city’s track record in recent months has been supporting youth sports tournaments and events.
“I don’t think we’re making it difficult at all,” he said. “I think we go out of our way to bring events like this to Ocean City.”
Councilman Matt James pointed out making the tournament a uniquely Ocean City event would eliminate some teams staying outside the resort.
“It wouldn’t make sense for them to stay in Salisbury if all of the games are here,” he said. “That’s the concept here.”
After considerable debate, the council voted 5-0 with Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Tony DeLuca to approve the $18,000 contribution to the June basketball tournament.