Resort Officials Support County Land Acquisition

OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week threw their support behind Worcester County’s proposed purchase of a vast tract of land along Route 50 in Berlin for the development of a future sports complex.

On Tuesday morning, Worcester County announced through a news release a public hearing has been scheduled for April 19 to get input on the proposed purchase of 95-plus acres along Route 50 just west of Stephen Decatur High School for the development of a future sports complex. The property would come with an estimated $11 million price tag for acquisition, design and development costs using a portion of the general obligation bonds in fiscal year 2023.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Rick Meehan announced the county’s public hearing on the land acquisition set for April 19 at 6 p.m. at Stephen Decatur High School and asked his colleagues to support the proposed project.

Ocean City has long desired the development of a sports complex somewhere on the island or at a location somewhere in northern Worcester County to tap in the rapidly-growing youth sports market. Meehan said the county’s proposal for the site along Route 50 in Berlin presented an opportunity to make that a reality.

“I’m asking the council to take some action,” he said. “The Town of Ocean City is interested in being a partner with the county on this. I’m asking the council to vote to support this project and the purchase of this property.”

Council President Matt James asked just what the town’s role would be in such a partnership.

“If we’re going to support it, do we have input on what goes in there?” he said.

Meehan said the county’s proposed land acquisition and sports complex development plan represented a chance to achieve what the town has been seeking for years.

“This is something we’ve talked about for a long time and it’s identified in our strategic plan,” he said. “This is our opportunity to be a partner with the county on this.”

Councilman John Gehrig, who has championed the idea of delving deeper into the youth sports market for years, agreed.

“This goes back to 2017,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to achieve the goals we’ve talked about.”

The council voted 6-1 with James abstaining to support the county’s land acquisition plan. In a second piece of action requested of the council on Tuesday, the mayor asked his colleagues to support a letter to the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) asking to update the study they conducted in 2019 and begin to develop cost estimates for the future sports complex.

In 2019, the Town of Ocean City partnered with the MSA on an economic impact study for a youth sports complex in or near the resort, but the results were never made public. When COVID came around, the consultant, Crossroads, had completed the study, but was unsure if certain assumptions made prior to the pandemic were still valid.

Crossroads then pulled back the study to revisit some of the post-COVID issues.

Meehan said on Tuesday with the county announcing its land acquisition plans, the time was right to press the MSA on an updated study. City Manager Terry McGean said an updated study could cost as much as $50,000.

“We’ve also been working with the MSA to update their study,” said Meehan. “With your approval, I’d like to get them a letter as soon as tomorrow formally requesting the MSA update their study and come up with a cost estimate.”

The council voted unanimously to send the letter to the MSA. James explained his abstention from the first vote.

“I support the sports complex project,” he said. “I’d just like to see more of the details.”

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.