OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week agreed to take the lead on a proposed sports complex project and to form a task force to evaluate its scope, location and funding sources.
On Tuesday, City Manager Terry McGean presented the Mayor and City Council with proposed next steps for the development of a sports complex within close proximity to Ocean City.
Following a brief review of an updated sports complex study, and a recap of the town’s April meeting with the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), the council voted unanimously to take the lead on the project and to form a committee that would evaluate its location, size and funding.
“I do think we should take the lead here and form this committee or task force,” Councilman John Gehrig said. “I do think other locations should be on the table, we should be open minded. I think, while we respect what the county commissioners decided to do, I like them to also know they are invited to participate, as well as other elected officials and representatives throughout the county, and make this a true team effort.”
For years, resort council members have expressed their desires to develop a sports complex somewhere near Ocean City. And in 2019, the town commissioned the MSA to conduct a market and economic analysis for a proposed sports complex in the Ocean City area.
When the pandemic hit, however, MSA officials were tasked with revising the study and producing a site-specific assessment of a 95-acre site next to Stephen Decatur High School. Following the November election, the majority of the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to terminate its contract for the purchase of the property and to end any county involvement in the development of a complex.
“During last November’s election, the county’s proposed acquisition of the Decatur site was placed on the ballot by referendum,” McGean told the council this week. “Although the measure failed countywide, it did pass in the Ocean City, West Ocean City and Bishopville districts. However, based on the results, the county commissioners have instructed their staff to cease working on the project.”
Resort staff told the council this week the market study determined a sports complex was not only feasible at the Stephen Decatur site but would support 1,000 full-time jobs and generate $2 million in annual local tax revenue.
“This would support year-round opportunities and support our local economy, products and services,” said Tom Perlozzo, Ocean City’s tourism and business development director. “It gives us a great opportunity to diversify our tourism here. What I mean by that is we typically live and die by the summer. Having a sports complex being year-round gives us an opportunity to bite back and to drive economics year-round.”
McGean added that other sites could also be considered.
“Although the study was based on the identified Decatur location, the Maryland Stadium Authority has noted that the study’s economic impact results would still apply for a location in similar, close proximity to Ocean City,” he said. “And by that, they mean approximately a 15- to-20-minute drive time.”
McGean told the council the estimated cost for constructing the sports complex totaled more than $153 million. He noted, however, that an 80-20 cost share between the state and a local sponsor could make the project feasible.
“Assuming that 80-20 split, the estimated debt service for the local sponsor would be $2.2 million annually,” he explained. “By way of comparison, a 1% room tax is equivalent to about $4.5 million annually, and a half percent food tax generates about $1.5 million annually.”
McGean said staff recommended the town take the lead on the sports complex project and to form a committee that would address community concerns.
“Should the city wish to pursue this project, there are a number of issues that will need to be addressed, starting, in my opinion, with the three most basic,” he said. “First, should the current proposed Decatur location be the focus or should other locations be evaluated? Second, should the project include both the indoor and outdoor facilities, or should one or the other be prioritized? And third, how should the project be funded?”
McGean noted a blue-ribbon committee was formed in prior years to evaluate the expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. That effort, he said, led to the first major expansion project and an ongoing partnership with the MSA.
“Therefore, staff would recommend that the city take the lead on the sports complex and that a similar blue-ribbon committee approach be initiated for the project,” he said.
Gehrig said he supported the recommendation. He then made a motion to have the town take the lead on the project and appoint a committee to evaluate the scope and location of the project and potential funding sources.
“I think Ocean City should definitely take the lead,” he said. “Our constituents spoke clearly in the last election about it.”
Councilman Peter Buas also asked that the committee evaluate whether the indoor fieldhouse and outdoor fields should be placed on the same site. The motion passed in a 7-0 vote.
“I’ll work on beginning to put together a committee,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “If anybody has any recommendations, please pass them on. We’ll try to get that going as soon as possible.”