Troubling Similarities Between the Riverboat and Sports Complex with Worcester County Commission
April 22, 2022 - by Tomas Jenkins
If anyone remembers how the Riverboat deal came about, then you already realize the similarities between the two. No business plan, no design plans, marketing plans or cost to the taxpayers. Let’s not forget zero data on the vessel. The only difference with the Sports Complex is that we had data. Two studies were done. Both showed decreased participation rates from 2014-2018 across all sports – both indoor and outdoor. However, one interesting contradiction between the two reports compiled by the same entity was that the County report rightly placed us in the Mid-Atlantic region while the Ocean City report wrongly placed us in the Southern, where participation rates for outdoor activities were higher. We also could look to St. Mary’s study or numerous other studies on the Maryland Stadium Authority website, all showing losses except one.
Ocean City Indoor Fieldhouse & Outdoor Field Complex Study, Phase 1 | Maryland Stadium Authority (mdstad.com)
Ocean City Indoor Fieldhouse & Outdoor Field Complex Study, Phase 2 | Maryland Stadium Authority (mdstad.com)
St. Mary’s County Youth Sports Tournament Complex Study | Maryland Stadium Authority (mdstad.com)
The other similarity is who voted for each. Commissioner Church, Mitrecic, Nordstrom, and Purnell all voted for both. As much as we all wanted the Riverboat to succeed for Snow Hill, it now sits in dry dock located in Norfolk, VA. Now the town must decide to pay the $600,000 + repair bill to make it fully operational or attempt to sell the vessel as-is. That still leaves their balance owed back to county as well, from their interest-free loan of $400,000. This is now a million-dollar disaster that was completely avoidable.
Some of the same people pushing that through in such a hasty way were Gary Weber, Commissioner Nordstrom, Tom Perlozzza, and Lachelle Scarlato (a county employee at the time and half owner of the vessel). Nordstrom commented at that time “this is an opportunity to revitalize two downtown areas and create jobs and revenue.” Weber stated it would be “drawing thousands of visitors.” (OC Today 10/15/20)
On 9/23/20, an emergency meeting was called to discuss the vessel. At this meeting, Commissioner Nordstrom stated that “time was of the essence” and “if we don’t make a decision today, we are going to lose this opportunity.” Other Commissioners such as Bertino disagreed and wanted to see the boat’s financials, business plan, and any comprehensive information, which none was available. Quickly, Nordstrom called for a vote and the deed was done. 5-2 vote with Bertino and Bunting against.
So here we are again, even after the open meeting on the Sports Complex, with the community clearly split on this venture for those who are for or against, we find that the land contract with the Harrison’s 95 acres for a hefty price tag of $7.2 million dollars was signed by those four Commissioners on 3/29/2022.
Once again, three Commissioners (Elder, Bertino and Bunting) were all against this transaction being pushed forward by the County and not by the private sector, especially after hearing that there was a private investor interested in building a sports complex. They believed it should be in the south side of the county where revitalization needs to desperately happen and this could certainly do that.
The most puzzling of all was that three Commissioners were concerned that if this was to be done at all, it be in the southern end of county around Pocomoke area as they have two major thoroughfares RT 113 and RT 13 and access wouldn’t be a problem. With Commissioner Nordstrom not fighting for his own district, but siding with Mitrecic and the OC elites, Nordstrom appeared to be irritated with the crowd that he had to listen to for 2+ hours at the open meeting. Nordstrom stated at one point “it has to be here” emphatically and then calling for immediate vote.
Once again, the county taxpayers are left with more questions than answers. Something that shouldn’t be happening is due to the county leaders lack of due diligence, lack of concern for the taxpayers, or regard for the people who pay their salaries. Maybe these projects are just being pushed through now, simply because it’s an election year.