BERLIN– Area residents can share their thoughts on a sports complex proposed near Stephen Decatur High School at a public hearing Tuesday.
The Worcester County Commissioners will host a public hearing at Stephen Decatur High School at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19, regarding plans to buy 95 acres adjacent to the school—currently owned by the Harrison family—for a sports complex.
“The main purpose for the sports complex, which is included in the FY23-FY27 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), is to provide county residents and guests with more recreational programming and event opportunities by providing additional field space,” a news release from the county reads. “Conceptual plans for this project include multi-purpose fields, with restrooms, parking, and concessions for recreation and travel sports. Additional park amenities would include walking trails, ponds, and a playground.”
County officials have talked about a potential sports complex for years, with studies indicating such a facility could result in as much as a $24 million economic impact. The Town of Ocean City has been a strong proponent of the project and is using social media to encourage citizens to attend Tuesday’s public hearing to voice their support. An accompanying website, www.WorcesterFamilies4Sports.com, features testimonials in support of a sports complex as well as answers to frequently asked questions and even a form letter of support to email to the commissioners. The website also includes links to the studies regarding a sports complex conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority.
“…both the county and the city contracted the Maryland Stadium Authority/Crossroads Consulting for the purpose of the development of a sports complex,” the website reads. “In addition, the internal staff of Worcester County comprised of the county administrator, assistant county administrator, planning and zoning director, county attorney, finance director, economic development director and director of recreation and parks reviewed and recommended the project.”
In response to the question of whether the project will raise county taxes, the website states that it will not.
“All studies have indicated that the facility will pay for the operations on an annual basis,” the website reads. “It will provide over and above economic value as well. Room Tax, Food Tax, Sales Tax, Jobs, etc.”
The website goes on to describe a Worcester sports complex as the most successful project ever conceived within the state.
“The State of Maryland, Worcester County, Town of Ocean City, Worcester County Board of Education all support the opportunity,” it reads. “The space would compete with any facility within our geographic region.”
The commissioners will vote Tuesday following the public hearing on whether or not they want to move forward with the land purchase. Decisions tied to the sports complex, including approval of the county’s CIP and approval of a bond bill, have been made with split 4-3 votes from the commissioners. Those in opposition have expressed concern regarding the unanswered questions related to the sports complex and its potential to cost county taxpayers money. And while the county is considering purchasing the 95-acre parcel for a little more than $7 million, it’s still unclear whether Program Open Space funds could help with the project.
“I support economic development,” Commissioner Chip Bertino wrote in a recent letter to the editor. “I like the idea of a privately owned and managed sports complex. But I cannot support a multi-million-dollar, taxpayer funded facility that to date has no property, plan or partnership, that will be a drain on the county treasury, that will congest our roadways and whose success is dependent on government bureaucracy. It’s not in the long-term best interests of taxpayers. With so many blanks yet to be filled in, it would be interesting to learn whether a private lending institution would spend its money for this project as taxpayers may soon do.”