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Ocean City vetting sports complex operators

As Ocean City officials seek funding and land for a planned sports complex, City Manager Terry McGean said during a meeting April 1 that the town has received four proposals for an operations consultant that would manage the facility.

Sports complex rendering

A rendering shows the planned design of a sports complex at a site near Stephen Decatur High School that county officials were once eyeing.
Rendering courtesy Maryland Stadium Authority

By Bethany Hooper, Associate Editor

The Town of Ocean City is reviewing proposals from companies interested in operating a planned sports complex.

As the resort officials seek funding and land for the project, City Manager Terry McGean said during a meeting April 1 that the Town of Ocean City has received four proposals – submitted by Laurel Hill Sports, Kemper Sports, The Sports Facilities Company and Eastern Sports Management/Ripken Baseball – for an operations consultant that would manage the facility. The announcement comes months after the Mayor and Council, at the recommendation of the Ocean City Sports Complex Task Force, voted to seek proposals from facility operators.

“We have received four proposals for an operations consultant and they are under review,” McGean said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said earlier this year bringing a professional operator on board during the planning phase of the project will allow the town to begin marketing the sports complex and soliciting sponsors so that there would be no operating deficit once the facility is developed. As part of the planning phase, the town is also seeking funds to support site assessment and design work.

“At this time there is $250,000 in the state capital bond request,” McGean said. “This could change as things progress near the end of the session. The goal is to have enough funding to get us through site evaluation and preliminary design and costs estimates so we have good documentation to request full construction costs during the 2025 legislative session.”

In January, the council members 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. While the work is projected at roughly $1 million, town officials planned to fund half the cost and seek the remainder from the state.

According to officials, the idea is to have funding available once a property is identified to keep the project advancing. With two other sports complex facilities proposed in Maryland, Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38) said the town will be in competition for state dollars.

“It is important to raise awareness of these other two complexes and evaluate their impact,”Hartman said last week. “There are only so many sports teams and places these groups can visit. Adding more choices will have a detrimental impact on Ocean City.”

Assuming the Town of Ocean City receives state funding for construction, McGean said the goal is to break ground in mid to late 2026.

“A lot has to happen between now and then to make that goal,” he said.

For years, resort council members have expressed desires to develop a sports complex somewhere near Ocean City. In 2019, the town commissioned the Maryland Stadium Authority 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, stadium authority 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 a contract for the purchase of the property and 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 the stadium authority and Crossroads, as well as from Sports Facilities Companies, a national firm specializing in sports facilities management. By the end of the meeting, task force members 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. Along with recommendations to the Mayor and Council, the task force also agreed to seek a 1% room tax increase from the Maryland General Assembly, with a portion of the additional revenue to be dedicated to debt service associated with the construction of the sports complex. Following an open session, the task force entered into a closed session to discuss property acquisition.

This story appears in the April 11, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.