The next several weeks will reveal everything as far as gauging the summer tourism season. In general, the summer season thus far has been strange. Though reviews are always mixed when reviewing summer business, the consensus seems to be it’s been a slow start. “It’s been a weird fall so far,” as one hospitality worker joked last week, understanding full well the summer season is in full swing.
The reference was due to the randomness of the weather and smaller crowds, especially during the week. There have been numerous days in June when it felt more like September and October from weather and population standpoints. For instance, the average temperature at 6 a.m. in Ocean City for June as of Wednesday was 60 degrees. It’s been sweatshirt weather most of the time on the Boardwalk in the mornings and evenings. It’s why the ocean temperature has not even hit 68 degrees yet. The weird weather pattern will eventually change, but it doesn’t look immediate. The highest forecasted daytime temperature over the next 10 days in Ocean City is 83 degrees with most days only expected to reach the upper-70s. It will be warmer inland, of course, but there’s been a weird weather trend this summer.
From a business standpoint, it’s been unpredictable as well. Every day seems to be different for most businesses. Random hectic days followed by quiet days traditionally busy. This seems to be especially the case in West Ocean City where reports indicate sales are largely down among restaurants and bars. June is always a bit odd for local businesses, and July, August and September are typically the best months of the year. The asterisk for this summer is what impact the historic fuel prices will have on visitor tendencies. It’s too early to tell at this point. The hope today seems to be business will ramp up this month through early fall, and the slow start will be forgotten in no time.
Though it’s not official yet, it’s looking the November general election will feature a referendum on the sports complex for Worcester County voters. The petition group is expected to meet its deadline and surpass the minimum threshold of necessary signatures, according to organizers.
What’s next will be interesting to observe. An extension of the current property purchase contract will likely be needed as it was reportedly for six months. If all plays out as it should, voters should have a referendum question before them in November on whether the county can proceed with the planned acquisition of property through a bond sale. County officials could throw a curveball and abandon the effort altogether or the current set of commissioners could avoid a referendum by funding the acquisition through reserves. Neither of these options seem plausible.
It’s going to be fascinating how county voters decide this issue if a referendum does in fact happen. Based on the spring public hearing and general observations in the community, my early prediction is it will be close. The petition group enjoyed success in its signature gathering effort, but it doesn’t mean each person who signed will vote against the sports complex when it comes to the November election. My sense is people like having a voice on the matter, and this was a message petitioners used well to get signatures. On multiple occasions, I overheard petition organizers say something along the lines of – signing the petition doesn’t mean you are against the sports complex, it just gives you an opportunity to vote on how public dollars are spent on the project. It was a message that resonated.
There were two significant issues involving State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Town of Berlin this week.
First, there was the absurd traffic pattern at the intersection of Route 113 and Assateague Road (which I call the RV Bypass during the summer months). The frustration over the odd traffic pattern comes after months of anxiety over the long construction project along Assateague Road. It was learned the intersection will be getting improved eventually, but the early striping on the road was bizarre. There were essentially two lanes marked for northbound 113 traffic and one bumped out lane for motorists heading south on 113 or west toward Berlin. It made no sense. The striping was improved Tuesday to at least make the designated lanes more obvious, but it’s still a strange pattern until final work is completed.
The second issue involving SHA was the stamped crosswalks in downtown Berlin. When the repaving was completed along Bay and William streets, it was learned the former brick pattern would not be returning to the crosswalk at Main Street as well as in front of Town Hall. Instead, SHA told town officials the stamped brick crosswalks will be phased out in favor of what Councilman Jay Knerr referred to as the “Abbey Road” concept – referring to the famous album cover by The Beatles. It’s a boring black-and-white striped look. It will evidently be the norm for crosswalks maintained by SHA moving forward.
In the coming years, the existing brick stamped crosswalks will be replaced with the Abbey Road designs because they are viewed as safer and more durable by SHA. This is a debatable point. A couple of the existing brick-looking crosswalks downtown are in bad shape, but the majority seem to be weathering fine considering they have been in place for several years. There are two clear aspects to me here — the town has no say on this and the new look is not as aesthetically pleasing.