It’s natural for Ocean City traditionalists to frown on Boardwalk properties being replaced by massive redevelopment projects. However, each case needs to be evaluated independently before rushing to judgment. In the case of the Phillips Beach Plaza property and the plans to develop a major Margaritaville resort, this is a good thing. It represents a major physical improvement of the property while carrying positives from an economic development, image and tax base perspective.
Change is difficult. It’s understandable to struggle with repeatedly seeing historically significant buildings razed in favor of new development, but progress is important. When new interests buy high-profile properties, such as the Phillips Beach Plaza property, a fresh perspective comes to the table. It’s clear adding a Margaritaville resort, consisting of 265 rooms, conference and convention space, restaurants, bars, numerous pools and retail stores on the Boardwalk, will forever change the look of the oceanfront block between 13th and 14th streets. Being nostalgic about the transformation is fine, but it would be silly to not acknowledge the project will be a major improvement.
This area of the Boardwalk has undergone massive changes over the last decade. Modern hotels, like the Courtyard, Holiday Inn and Hyatt, to name a few, have replaced family-owned motels that needed updating, while other existing properties, like the Commander, Howard Johnson and Quality Inn, have made major reinvestments to improve their booking and aesthetic appeal. The changes have worked.
While charming to a degree for its history, the beach plaza property has fallen into disrepair in recent years. It’s a common issue for many older hotels and condominium properties. It’s not unlike owning an old home. Aging properties with substandard structures are expensive to maintain, and there comes a time when carrying out big money improvements – many with no immediate return of investment — become financially unwise. It’s simply not worth it, and this is the time when families decide to sell their properties. It’s what happened with the Phillips Beach Plaza block.
The Margaritaville concept has several more steps to take in the approval process, but it’s clear this project is going to move ahead. The city seems to support the effort because officials realize the project will be an improvement.
It’s difficult to maintain the Hyatt on 16th Street is not a massive improvement over the former Sea Scape. There are dozens of other examples to show the same, including the Hilton on 32nd Street years ago, and the Doubletree more recently to its north. These are massive investments bettering the entire resort’s image as a destination, enlarging the tax base and providing a model for other properties to continue evolving.
Former Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith, a consultant for the Margaritaville developer, put it well, saying, “It will enhance the experience people have when they come to Ocean City. We believe what we do here will complement the effort to bring the type of clientele to Ocean City that will make a difference.”