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County agrees to stadium study

(May 8, 2015) Funding for the phase I study of an indoor/outdoor sports complex to be placed somewhere in Worcester County was given the green light Tuesday by the county commissioners with the voice of opposition represented by Ocean Pines’ representative Chip Bertino.

“This reminds me of the discussions we had about the Ocean City Convention Center,” Commissioner J. Bud Church said.

Church said naysayers plagued that project as well, but it now stands as one of the area’s crowning achievements.

“The money is well worth it to discover what we can or can’t do,” Church said.

For his part, Bertino focused on costs and pointed to an increase in the amount required by the county to conduct the study. During a presentation on the project in January, county Economic Development Director Bill Badger estimated the county’s share at $12,000. That number has grown to $15,000, but Badger said he had the money, today, in his current budget once he “reprogrammed” some advertising funds.

“We added an outdoor portion and that number was based on off-the-record conversations I had,” Badger explained.

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development will contribute $25,000 to the study, the Maryland Stadium Authority has committed $30,000 and Hat Trick, the would-be developer and primary customer, of the facility kicked in $5,000.

Badger said the consultants working for the stadium authority, Crossroads Consulting Services, have also been hired to evaluate a proposed expansion of the Ocean City Convention Center, and cost savings for duplicated services may be possible.

The study encompasses three tasks: data gathering, market analysis and economic analysis. Crossroads will deliver reports, a PowerPoint presentation or both. The firm expects the project to take between six and eight months to complete, and has worked on a large number of similar projects.

The county could, theoretically, build any kind of complex it wanted provided it could find the money. The proposals they have seen from Hat Trick Consultants, the Texas firm pitching the idea, included hotels, a public ice facility separate from the main rink, parking facilities and retail space described by Badger as “massive.”

The county’s vague plans include an indoor arena, outdoor facilities and some kind of parking area. The number they keep coming back to is $40 million in estimated costs, but several commissioners, including Bertino, have said the county has no interest in footing construction, management or maintenance costs.

Bertino was critical of a proposed public/private partnership in constructing the facility, noting he had no idea where the “public” portion would come from.

“This is a marathon project. We’re at mile one, and this shows we’re in the game and in consideration,” Badger said. He called the discussion of construction and management of the proposed facility premature.

“We have other projects to spend money on; $40 million for this is not at the top of the list,” Bertino said.

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