Local Elected Officials To Hear Revised Sports Complex Presentation

Local Elected Officials To Hear Revised Sports Complex Presentation
A rendering of a proposed sports complex that was studied by the state is pictured west of Stephen Decatur High and Middle schools. Rendering courtesy of the Maryland Stadium Authority Feasibility Study

OCEAN CITY – Determined to continue to pursue a youth sports complex in the area, resort officials this week voted to invite the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) to present its revised findings and promised to invite all potential stakeholders to the table.

The Mayor and Council have long desired to develop a sports complex somewhere off the island to expand its current offerings and tap into the burgeoning youth sports market in the region and around the country. It’s no secret youth travel sports and tournaments have become a huge industry and puts heads in beds and people in restaurant seats and all of the other amenities the resort and the region has to offer.

Worcester County appeared to be on the path of purchasing property for a vast sports complex adjacent to the Stephen Decatur High School and Middle School, but the county’s electorate voted in a referendum question in November’s election not to finance the land purchase.

In addition, a changeover in the makeup of the county commissioners following the November election swung a previous majority in favor purchasing the property in a different direction. As a result, the commissioners voted 4-2 in December not to proceed with the contract for the property. The motion passed makes it clear the county is to not have any involvement in a sports complex proposal moving forward. “The purpose of this motion is to cease all involvement Worcester County has in construction of a sports complex in Worcester County,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “It is not intended to hinder in any way an individual or entity in privately owning and operating a sports complex in Worcester County and I look forward to them coming forward.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor and Council have remained steadfast in their desire to pursue a sports complex for the area. During a discussion on Tuesday about the larger proposed capital improvement plan (CIP), the council voted unanimously to invite the MSA to present its revised feasibility study for a complex in the area.

The Town of Ocean City and the MSA in 2019 commissioned a private sector consultant to prepare a feasibility study for a sports complex in the area. After the pandemic hit, the MSA went back to the drawing board to revise its study, which relied heavily on pre-COVID assumptions. During Tuesday’s work session, the council voted unanimously to bring the MSA back to present its revised sports complex study and decided to invite all potential stakeholders, including the county commissioners, the Berlin Town Council and, perhaps most importantly, the public, to the table. City Manager Terry McGean outlined some options for the proposed presentation of the revised study.

“Last spring the town contracted with the MSA for an update of the earlier study,” he said. “This follows our typical model and includes things like feasibility and cost estimates. The county was under contract to purchase the property next to the high school but the county canceled the contract.”

McGean said the revised sports complex study presentation should probably include all potential stakeholders.

“If the council wants to continue to pursue this, the next step would be to invite the MSA here to present their updated study,” he said. “It would be a good idea to invite the county commissioners and the Berlin council and anybody else who has a stake in this including the public.”

Councilman John Gehrig, who has championed the youth sports complex concept from the beginning, said all should be invited to the table for the presentation. He said instead of the typical council forum with the councilmembers seated at the dais, it should be a more open forum with all stakeholders on equal ground in roundtable fashion, perhaps at the convention center.

“We paid for this study, and we should hear the presentation,” he said. “I would like to invite the county commissioners and any other elected officials who might have input. I would like it to be at a neutral field, maybe like the roundtables we do occasionally at the convention center, so we’re not sitting up here and everybody else with a stake is down there. I prefer it to be a forum where the commissioners and the public can all participate.”

Councilman Frank Knight said the discussion should not likely focus specifically on the proposed site near the Decatur schools.

“This isn’t a site-specific presentation,” he said. “There was a site identified, but this could apply to any site in the county.”

Knight said the entire sports complex project comes with a $167 million price tag. However, he pointed out the local contribution would be around $36 million with the state contribution, and the line item in the CIP shouldn’t scare off the public.

McGean said a sports complex somewhere in the county remained a priority for the town and an integral part of the proposed capital improvement plan for funding in future fiscal years.

“A Worcester County sports complex has remained a top priority for the City Council for the last several years,” he said. “The town believes it is tremendously important to have the Maryland Stadium Authority present to sports complex and economic analysis update to the council, the commissioners, other elected officials and to the public.”

Business and Tourism Development Director Tom Perlozzo said later on Tuesday the potential gains from a sports complex in the area outweighed the town’s potential expenditures.

“It looks like a $150 million project for both the indoor and the outdoor,” he said. “The MSA has said it will fund 80%. If we can get some grant funding, we can do something really great for the town and the area without a huge contribution from the town.”

McGean agreed.

“There have been a lot of questions surrounding the proposed sports complex, and we believe inviting the MSA here with their consultant will give elected officials the opportunity to ask questions about the project and the report findings,” McGean finished. “The Ocean City Mayor and City Council remain interested in building a sports complex in Worcester County, and we hope that this meeting will be a fresh start and the beginning of additional discussions on how to move forward with what we believe is an exciting opportunity for economic development, tourism and our local county citizens.”

No timetable was set for the proposed presentation from the MSA although the council decided sooner was better than later.

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.