Ocean City Council Approves Sports Complex Recommendations

Ocean City Council Approves Sports Complex Recommendations
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 – City officials this week voted to support two recommendations that will bring the resort one step closer in its efforts to develop a sports complex.

On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council voted to spend up to $500,000 on site assessment and design work for the sports complex project, with funds to be reimbursed from a future bond issuance, and to begin seeking proposals for a facility operator. Mayor Rick Meehan said both recommendations came from the Ocean City Sports Complex Task Force at its Dec. 14 meeting.

“There were a number of items discussed,” he said.

During last month’s meeting of the task force, members agreed to seek funding for site assessment and preliminary design work that would be needed once a property is identified for the proposed sports complex. Meehan told the council Tuesday the town had two options.

“One, we’ve sent a letter to the governor to ask that $1.2 million be included in his budget to fund 80% of that project,” he explained. “We also have the option, which we’re planning to do if it is not in the governor’s budget, to submit legislation requesting $500,000 from the state as a capital grant request.”

As part of those discussions, Meehan said the committee voted on a recommendation to have the Mayor and Council pass a resolution allowing the city to spend up to $500,000 on the project now, with funds to be reimbursed from a future bond issuance.

“That will allow us, once that property is identified, not to have to wait until the end of the legislative session, but to move forward to keep this project on schedule, on time and moving forward,” he said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Peter Buas questioned if the $500,000 would be reimbursed from a bond or from a capital grant. City Manager Terry McGean said Ocean City would utilize both options, as site assessment and design work is expected to cost roughly $1 million. He said that preliminary work is needed before the resort can seek construction funds from the state.

“What we’re asking for from the state is a portion of that, but our share would still be $500,000,” he replied. “So what this would do would be to allow us, once this goes to construction and we go to the bond market, it would allow us to reimburse that $500,000 out of that future bond.”

With no further discussion, the council voted to pass a resolution to expend up to $500,000 on the project now, with funds to be reimbursed from a future bond issuance. The motion passed in a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Carol Proctor absent.

Meehan told the council Tuesday the task force also voted on a recommendation to have the Mayor and Council prepare and submit a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an operating facilitator.

“The Town of Ocean City believes that by bringing a professional sports facility operator on board during the planning phase of this project, aggressively marketing the facility and soliciting sponsors, a project can be developed that will have no operating deficit beyond the debt service,” he explained. “So we’re looking forward to bringing somebody on board.”

With no discussion, the council also voted 6-0 on a motion to submit RFPs for an operating facilitator.

Tuesday’s council actions come just months after the town first formed a task force to explore the development of a sports complex.

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 Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) and its consultant, Crossroads, 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.

While the county initially took the lead on the project, the Worcester County Commissioners in 2022 voted to terminate its contract for the purchase of the property and to end any county involvement in the development of a complex. Since that time, resort officials have agreed to take on the project and form a task force to address community concerns relating to the project’s location and scope.

With nearly 30 members at the table last fall, the task force kicked off its first meeting with a presentation from MSA and Crossroads, as well as from Sports Facilities Companies, a national firm specializing in sports facilities management. By the end of the meeting, the task force agreed a proposed complex should include both indoor and outdoor facilities but that more information was needed on the funding mechanism.

In December, the group reconvened to discuss funding options. In addition to its recommendations, the task force also agreed to seek a 1% room tax increase from the Maryland General Assembly, with a portion of that additional revenue to be dedicated to debt service associated with the construction of the sports complex. Following its open session, the task force entered into a closed session to discuss property acquisition.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.