Thoughts from The Publisher’s Desk – November 5, 2021

Thoughts from The Publisher’s Desk – November 5, 2021

While the nostalgic types understandably frown on the project, the Margaritaville project — proposed between 13th and 14th streets — represents the new Ocean City. The development’s scale is massive and will include 265 hotel rooms, three restaurants, four pools, bars, a wellness center and gym, convention space and retail space between Baltimore Avenue and the Boardwalk.

Though no stance was taken on the request for a Planned Overlay District (POD) by the Ocean City Planning Commission, it’s likely the commission will forward a favorable recommendation to the council. The POD designation allows the developer greater flexibility in designing the revitalization project as well as diversifying the uses and space, resulting typically in a favorable development.

Though only one speaker commented at this week’s public hearing aside from the principals of the project, the Margaritaville plans stirred up a lively debate when the article was posted to this newspaper’s Facebook page, which is followed by more than 110,000 people. A majority of the 160-plus commenters expressed excitement for the project, referencing favorable visits to other brand resorts elsewhere. Those who commented against it were clearly bothered by the massive scope of the project and what one reader called, “the cheese factor growing for Ocean City” and another said, “it will ruin a once beautiful beach town.”

The project represents economic redevelopment progress at its best to me, but how it’s viewed is wholly dependent on individual tastes, personal vacation preferences, sentimentality toward the past and overall perspectives on the resort’s future direction oftentimes frown upon. This is an inevitable dialogue with such massive changes in use are proposed. The question for city officials is whether granting a POD will result in the best project. It seems clear to me.

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It’s been a year since Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved sports betting at existing casinos. It’s unsure if it’s “a COVID thing” – something frequently used as a scapegoat these days – to blame, but the slow progress towards adding sports books in Maryland was discussed this week.

The newest development was the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission on Thursday approved the sports wagering operator partners for five casinos, including Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin, all of which are still awaiting license awards from the Sports Wagering Application Review Committee (SWARC). Each of the five casinos qualified for sports wagering will partner with an independent third-party to run the operations. For Ocean Downs Casino, the sports wagering partner approved on Thursday is TwinSpires. At this week’s meeting, the pace of the process was discussed at length.

“We’re obviously disappointed by the lack of progress in yesterday’s SWARC meeting, but we’re pleased that we’ve moved forward in other areas,” said Commission Director John Martin. “The delay is likely to push sports wagering back until after the New Year. At this point, we are hoping to make the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February.”

The SWARC met on Wednesday, but no decisions were made on the five applications, including Ocean Downs Casino. Martin said the MLGCC continues to work on other aspects of the approval process separate from SWARC, which is scheduled to meet again Nov. 18.

“We are making progress on as much of this as we can now, but we’ll still need time to work through a number of procedures with each facility, even after the license is awards,” Martin said. “It could take up to 30-45 days. If the SWARC awards the licenses on November 18 and all goes well, that would mean a launch date somewhere around the first of the year.”

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Many lessons have been learned through the pandemic. Chief among them might be to never take anything for granted.

Last year Halloween fell on a Saturday in Berlin. Under normal circumstances, it would have been even more crowded than usual due to not falling on a school night. With trick or treating not endorsed by the town, Berlin was eerily quiet last Halloween. There were some folks out and about, but it was essentially a non-event.

With a Halloween on Sunday this year, many homeowners were curious how fast the town would rebound as far as popularity. The questions were answered about a half hour before trick-or-treating was to begin at 5 p.m. when kids started ringing door bells and vehicles rolled into town. Though tough to garner an accurate head count because people are spread out through town, a safe estimate would be 3,000 trick-or-treaters came to town throughout the night.

With popularity comes inevitable questions. Should trick-or-treating in Berlin be moved to a weekend night when Halloween falls on a school night? Should the town consider closing Main Street on Halloween? As a Berliner for more than half of my life, I think Halloween should be observed when it falls on the calendar. It’s a bummer when it’s a school night, but adjustments to routines can be made to make it work. As far as Main Street goes, I think the town should close it from West to Jefferson streets during trick-or-treating hours. Combining aloof visitors crammed onto sidewalks with rushed motorists in a tight space is trouble. It’s better to be proactive in the interest of safety rather than reflecting after an accident occurs.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.