(Feb. 27, 2015) Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a big party in the Horizons Oceanfront Restaurant on Sunday starting at 6 p.m.
“The 30 years have flown by. I don’t know where they have gone,” said Leonard Berger, Clarion president and CEO.
The celebration will include music, happy hour drink prices as well as a complimentary menu featuring a cheese and veggie tray, crab balls, Maryland crab soup, potato skins and mini pastries.
It all began in March 1985, when Berger retired to Ocean City and found himself bored. He walked up the beach, made an offer on what was then the Sheraton at 101st Street and Coastal Highway and the rest, as they say is history.
Two years later, Berger bought the Ocean Club on 49th Street, which he held onto until the property was acquired for what eventually became the site of the Gateway Grand.
Meanwhile, the hotel would run as a Sheraton until April 2001 when Berger decided Clarion and its Choice Hotels brand would be a better fit.
“Choice Hotels had a big presence in Ocean City and was marketing their brand with Comfort Inn and Sleep Inn,” Berger said. “Rising fees made Clarion a better value for us at the time, but we think Sheraton is a great brand and enjoyed our time with them.”
The first order of business after buying the hotel was to add a convention center, which changed the dynamic in that larger groups could now be accommodated.
Currently, the conference center is 40,000 square feet and includes a kitchen. A 7,500-square-foot ballroom is the largest of any Ocean City hotel.
The abundance of space provides the Clarion with more than half its business, as meetings and conferences bring large groups of accountants, doctors, funeral directors, lawyers and other professionals to Ocean City each year.
Numerous renovations have taken place in the 252-room hotel since Berger took over. The spa has been updated to include two large exercise rooms, a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi.
The Clarion is currently undergoing renovations, which include an outdoor pool and renovations to Lenny’s Beach Bar and Grill. The Clarion is one of four hotels in Ocean City that can serve and sell alcohol on the beach.
The hotel offers entertainment outside daily Memorial Day through Labor Day. During off-season months, Horizons restaurant and nightclub has live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
“A number of bands have been playing at the restaurant since we started,” Berger said.
In addition to bands, many employees and customers have been there since the start.
“There are people who come in to eat dinner once or twice a week,” Berger said. “We have a great core of employees who have been here a long time.”
Berger is proud of former employees who have been successful in their professional careers and he hopes their training at the Clarion helped with their future endeavors.
“Ocean City is a great community to live and work,” Berger said.
Berger was chairman of the Maryland Tourism Development Board from 1996-1999. He has been vice chairman and chairman of the funding committee since October 1993.
“The future of Ocean City is great and I have seen it become a vacation destination,” Berger said. “The new performing arts center [on 40th Street] shows Ocean City continues to expand, which is important for tourism and economic development.”
In addition, Berger was chairman and president of the Governor’s Economic Development Committee of Ocean City from 1976-2009. He has been active in promoting economic development including beach replenishment.
“The one thing that impresses me is he’s had multiple careers and most of us only get to do one of these things,” said Krista Radena, Berger’s executive assistant. “He was in the army, became a physician, started working for Comcast and now owns the Clarion hotel after retiring.”
Berger has been active in many philanthropic organizations, including the Ocean City Bartender’s Ball, Franklin and Marshall College, Believe in Tomorrow and at least a dozen others.
His contributions to charities and the community earned him the Hal Glick award two years ago, which honors philanthropy and community service in the area.
“The wonderful people who have worked for me through the years are the reason we are having a 30th anniversary party on Sunday,” Berger said. “I love what we do here, it’s very gratifying to read letters from people who love coming to the Clarion and visiting Ocean City.”
Leonard Berger, Clarion president and CEO, takes time
out of his day to pose for a picture on Wednesday.
Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel is celebrating its
30th anniversary with a big party in the Horizons
Oceanfront Restaurant on Sunday, March 1, starting at 6 p.m.