OC Planners Forward Favorable Review For Axe Throwing Venue

OCEAN CITY — Satisfied their safety concerns were allayed, resort planners this week approved a new axe-throwing competition venue as part of the major redevelopment of a historic downtown restaurant.

Last year, the owners of Embers restaurant, which stood at 23rd Street for decades, and Blu, an outdoor dining facility and bar, began a major redevelopment of the parcel. The new addition closest to Philadelphia Avenue will be three stories with restaurant and bar space throughout, some retail, office space and other amenities.

On Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning Commission had before them a conditional use application to allow for an interior tenant space to be fitted out as an axe-throwing venue. The applicant for years has owned and operated escape rooms in the resort and the axe-throwing venue as part of the larger Embers redevelopment project would be an added amenity. Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy outlined the salient points of the presentation.

“It’s a little different,” she said. “We are all used to the old Embers restaurant. It’s been home to Embers and Blu plus the miniature golf. One of this new section is more of a shopping center. I think everybody is excited about it. There will be a deli and some retail uses on the first floor. On the second floor, there will be some dining area and an arcade and there might be some office uses up there. On the second floor will be the axe-throwing venue, which is the subject of the conditional use request.”

According to the applicant’s narrative describing the business, axe throwing is a safe, fun and interactive activity that has been sweeping North America over the last decade with over 800 locations spread throughout every state in the U.S. and province in Canada.

“Ocean City Axe Throwing will provide a much-needed addition to Ocean City’s lineup of indoor activities,” said Gordy. “Housed in a safe, contained environment and run by attentive and trained professionals, OCAX will be a centrally located destination for families, birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties and corporate events of all types.”

Gordy said the axe throwing venue at 1,800 square feet would allow for 80 occupants, or 16 parking spaces, according to the formula.

“They are going to get whatever they need for their restaurant and other uses and then we will recalculate the parking,” she said. “As it stands now, they have more than they need for all uses. It says at a maximum capacity of 80 people, they would need 16 spaces for this use. However, they have assured me they will never have 80 people in there at one time.”

Applicant Shawn Bauer, whose company owns and operates two escape room amusements in the resort, said the intent was to diversify the amusement offerings for residents and visitors.

“The goal is to host families, corporate events, bachelor parties etc.,” he said. “We’ve been in Ocean City for six years. It’s a fun activity on a bad weather day. We’ve partnered with a company in Toronto and they are experienced in this and will do all the training.”

The planning commission asked if there were any age or other qualifications for the employees monitoring the axe-throwing lanes within the venue.

“From our training standpoint, all of the employees will be 18 and older,” he said. “We might have a J-1 a little younger as a hostess or something like that.”

Bauer also addressed some of the other safety concerns of the planning commission. He said there would only be one axe available per group outing.

“There will only be one axe in the room,” he said. “The others will be carefully stored and accounted for. They are incredibly dull to the touch. They are heavy enough that they stick in the board when thrown.”

Planning Commissioner Kevin Rohe pressed the applicant further on the safety issues.

“You will have multiple lanes,” he said. “Who would be there to provide security? You could have someone that needs anger management or has been drinking or using drugs. Who would be the interceptor if there was an incident?”

Bauer said the company has done careful research on the business model and there have been no serious incidents at other locations.

“As part of our research, we’ve been to dozens of axe-throwing venues, and we have never seen one that needed a bouncer. We haven’t considered any stronger security options, so it’s a good question,” Bauer said. “We would have one axe per lane and if there were four people sharing one axe, we would have one trained staffer for every two lanes. We are comfortable this will be very safe.”

After receiving confident messages on the safety of the axe-throwing business, the planning commission voted unanimously, with commissioners Joe Wilson and Lauren Taylor absent, to approve the conditional use request for the axe-throwing venue. The commission will forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council, which will hold a public hearing on the proposal on a future date.

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.