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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Pines continues to struggle with new Yacht Club

Despite high expectations and early positive reviews, Ocean Pines’ new $4.7 million Yacht Club seemed more like an albatross than a rabbit’s foot by the end of the year.
Opened during Memorial Day weekend, the facility’s coming out party included a daylong celebration complete with live music, food and tours of the enormous grounds.
The building seemed to come together in record time. Replacing the original 1975 yacht club, torn down in September 2013, it featured a massive outdoor patio with a stunning view of the Isle of Wight Bay, as well as new facilities designed to attract special events.
The downstairs restaurant, dubbed “The Cove,” served daily lunch and dinner service.
Tom Terry, then president of the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors, called the opening “a roaring success.”
Terry also praised General Manager Bob Thompson. “He did a phenomenal job getting that building done in time for the Memorial Day Weekend,” Terry said.
Another director, Jack Collins, said Thompson “really pulled a rabbit out of the hat.”
Director Bill Cordwell agreed, saying, “The whole place is just fantastic.”
Still, there were loose ends from the very beginning. The county issued a temporary certificate of occupancy allowing the opening just three hours before the doors opened. Unfinished construction, including landscaping, additional parking, and screening and fencing of trash pad sites and fuel containers, held up a permanent permit. The outdoor tiki bar also remained unfinished.
A formal ribbon cutting ceremony on June 8 drew several hundred guests, as the club continued to offer tours, food samples and live music.
In September, the Bayside Gazette spoke with Yacht Club Manager David McLaughlin about the facility’s first full season in business. McLaughlin said financials were strong and that event booking was “extraordinary.”
“I think we’ve sold out about three months up there next year already,” McLaughlin said.
Still, the summer was not without its hiccups. Friday nights were like “controlled chaos” according to McLaughlin. “We’re like ducks – we’re sitting up here looking calm, but underneath we’re paddling like crazy,” he said.
The interior of the Cove needed more work and the kitchen needed a makeover.
“It’s like getting your first car – you have to learn how to drive it,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been such a busy time this summer that we didn’t have a lot of time to play with things.”
Swarms of flies also often plagued customers.
“That was our number one complaint during the first couple of weeks,” McLaughlin said. “If you looked up at the ceiling, probably 20 or 30 percent of the ceiling tiles were covered with flies. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
New board President Dave Stevens said the yacht club needed to formulate an overall identity.
Days later, during a Sept. 27 board meeting, complaints from residents began pouring in that key community groups, including the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce, had bypassed the club when booking their signature galas.
“If somebody invests over $4 million in your back yard … you don’t go somewhere else to save a couple dollars,” Terry said.
Board Vice President Marty Clarke said many of the groups “are not very happy with the way the Yacht Club came off” in negotiations to book said functions.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Kain-Bolen said the yacht club’s rates “weren’t competitive with our other bidders.”
Stevens said the golf association had a similar experience.
“They made multiple attempts to try and go to the Yacht Club and then in the end had to decide to try and go to another place,” he said. “I think it’s an instance of bad communications, or perhaps lack of a responsiveness that caused it.”
Some complained that the facility, considered an amenity, should give discounts to association members. Thompson argued that the facility was designed to bring revenue into the community.
“It’s different than a community center where you would have [public] use of this space,” he said. “The Yacht Club is a food and beverage operation, so that’s how we’re operating.”
Clarke agreed. “It is a business and there is not a majority of this board to make it a new community center,” he said. “I have always been the guy that says, ‘You’ve got to pay to play.’ I don’t think we should have any facility for free because there isn’t any such thing as free.”
Terry disagreed.
“The Yacht Club is an amenity of our association, and by definition, by my sense and past Boards, amenities are not necessarily pure profit centers,” he said. “We clearly need to balance the fact that that is an amenity that is owned by our members.”
Clarke picked a specific target.
“Do I think it’s being mismanaged? Yes, it’s being mismanaged,” he said.
The outspoken director also called on the board to lease the facility.
“I’d lease the damned place out – or at least make my best effort to lease it out,” Clarke said. “Get the board of directors’ fingers out of that pie and it might not fail. We obviously suck at this. The place has got no rent and no taxes and it can’t make money? Hello?”
Terry chalked up his concerns on the yacht club to “growing pains.”
“I think at the end of the day we’ll find our way through this,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to find our way. We are booking many, many events at our facility, so our pricing model is not that far off from the marketplace. You work through the first year, you tweak it, and you go from there.”
Stevens introduced a motion during a special session advocating the creation of a work group to assess the yacht club. Cordwell, however, argued that the existing food and beverage committee, on which he is the board’s liaison, already serves the same purpose as the proposed workgroup.
“I knew nothing about [the proposed committee], which I was embarrassed at, until I got the board packet for this meeting [and] find out you’re putting together this ‘lessons learned’ group,” he said. “I hope we would take the time to apologize to this club committee group for wasting their time.”
The board defeated the motion 5-2. Clarke, who supported the work group with Stevens, said he was “astounded” by the decision.
“We’re going to find out what’s going on,” he said. “I’m like a bulldog on a rag – I’m going to find out.
In November, during Thompson’s first town hall meeting in more than a year, financials appeared strong despite the mounting controversies. Thompson said the yacht club brought in more than $400,000 during 60 events in 2014, adding the venue already booked 41 events in 2015 worth more than $370,000.
The general manager said he and a small workgroup were developing new pricing strategies and menu options, and deciding whether Ocean Pines residents would receive discounts or priority booking. Leasing the club to outside management, according to Thompson, was not on the table.
“We figure we’ll get a year under our belt … and then we can make some better decisions,” he said. “You just can’t correct everything right away. It’s kind of a learning process.”
Still, new complaints emerged.
One resident asked why Thompson did not address his email complaint about McLaughlin. After a disagreement with a customer, he claimed, McLaughlin said, “I’m tired of hearing [from] Ocean Pines geriatric drunks.”
“I didn’t answer it by design,” Thompson said. “I learned about the incident recently. It’s a personnel matter. I’m working through that.”
“They should not have been talked to in that way, I can tell you that,” Thompson added.
Another resident asked about an apparent rumor that McLaughlin had been fired.
“It’s a rumor,” Thompson said at the time.
On the following day, the community quietly announced it had indeed severed ties with McLaughlin, temporarily installing Beach Club Manager Lynda Huettner in his place.
Thompson said the allegations brought up during the town hall did not play a role in the apparent ousting.
“Meetings like that don’t change my mind on personnel issues. It’s a little bigger issue than individual cases,” he said.
Instead, Thompson said, the yacht club simply needed “a change in direction.”
“We appreciate everything Dave’s done up to this point, but it was just time to move us in a different direction,” he said.
Asked if he saw the change in leadership as a chance to move on from the public unrest, Thompson was guardedly optimistic.
“I’m hoping it will, but we’re in Ocean Pines,” he said. “There will always be a little bit of controversy. This will bring new challenges and criticisms, but we have so many good things happening. I just try and keep us focused and pointed in that direction.”