(Jan. 8, 2021) Worcester County’s long-standing goal to develop a sports complex took one step back and one step forward at the county commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday.
For nearly two years, Tom Perlozzo, director of recreation and parks, economic development and tourism, had been recruiting landowners and private companies to build a sports complex in southern Worcester County, but was unsuccessful.
This prompted the commissioners to vote to open the search to all locations and funding options. County Commissioner Jim Bunting was the sole opposing vote.
Both the county and the Town of Ocean City have pursued bringing a sports complex to Worcester County as a new revenue driver. The complex would tap into sports tourism by bringing in traveling competitive teams.
Perlozzo said he believed he had exhausted every option.
“I’d like to see this thing get built because I think it’s going to be an economic boom for the county, absolutely, but I’m at a loss here because I don’t know where to move forward here,” said County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom.
Perlozzo responded that the best opportunity would be to locate the complex where the infrastructure in the county is, meaning closer to the northern end.
County Commissioner Chip Bertino criticized both the sports complex idea and the intention to discuss revenue opportunities.
“He [Perlozzo] gave us an update on the southern part of the county — there was nothing about what the options were or what revenue there was,” Bertino said. “I just say that because there is an agenda, I believe, to get this thing built and have the county taxpayers on the hook for it and I certainly oppose that.”
“I will not vote for it unless it’s funded privately and not by the county,” Bunting said. “This is wrong. This was orchestrated.”
County Commissioner Diana Purnell denied that anything was orchestrated and suggested the sports complex be located in Berlin. She pointed out that Ocean Pines and Ocean City already have recreational areas and that the county invested in Snow Hill via the loan for a paddle boat.
“The only thing we have is the ballfield,” Purnell said. “We do not have anything that our kids can go to.”
Bertino countered that the sports complex wasn’t intended for public use.
“This is not a park, this isn’t a playground that we’ll be constructing for the local community,” Bertino said. “This will be a business to bring in tournaments, to bring in regional teams — that’s what was presented to us.”
Perlozzo corrected him, saying that multi-sport facilities would be available for all and that the area could include walking trails, a pond and an amphitheater.
County Commissioner Bud Church added that the complex would be investing in Worcester County.
“This will enhance our community, through our schools, through the community, give kids opportunities they don’t have,” Church said. “It’ll bring revenue in. . .fill rooms, particularly in the off-season, restaurants in the off season.”
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic said the complex could be a way to avoid increasing taxes.
“Nobody wants to raise taxes of course, and there’s only so much money that’s going to be generated through taxes, so the other way to do it is to increase revenue with economic development,” Mitrecic said.
Bunting reiterated that he would not support the complex unless it was a private venture.
“If you could concentrate on getting a private owner, bring it to us and I’ll be happy to endorse it, but I’m not going to endorse it if the county is going to own it and operate it because we don’t make a penny on anything we do,” Bunting said.
Perlozzo explained that assuming there are no changes with Program Open Space, the state would reimburse 90 percent of the project, leaving the county responsible for only 10 percent of the funding.
“If we can find a private developer or a private corporation that would partner, they could essentially come up with a zero cost to county taxpayers for the project,” Perlozzo said.
He said that if the county acquired a piece of land outright, 100 percent of that could be reimbursed by Program Open Space. In addition, Worcester County receives about $600,000 a year, according to Perlozzo, and 75 percent of that can be used for development and 25 percent for acquisition.
“You could essentially have a facility that if it was $12 million, if we didn’t get a dime, it would only cost you $1.2 million,” Perlozzo said.
He added that the county could create a memorandum of understanding so that residents could use the space, and that the municipalities could partner with the developer.
Mitrecic encouraged Perlozzo’s ideas.
“Your wildest ideas need to come to the county commissioners,” Mitrecic said. “We may laugh at you, but we want to hear them.”
Perlozzo said he would return to the commissioners with another update.