Mayor says Ocean City has grown into a gold mine for the state

Q & A

January 11, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY -- When Roland E. "Fish" Powell and his childhood chums played ballgames on the dirt side streets of Maryland's only Atlantic beach village, barely 500 people lived in town year-round.

Today, Ocean City has almost as many people on the full-time municipal payroll. The town has grown so much since Mr. Powell, who is 65, was a youngster that builders have run out of undeveloped land to acquire. The action these days is in redevelopment -- expanding existing buildings or tearing down structures for bigger and taller ones.

Mr. Powell, Ocean City's mayor since 1985, could be forgiven if he were to pine for the simpler days of the little town where he was born and reared.

But don't look for sappy nostalgia from this man. A former painter, carpenter, hunting and fishing guide and land salesman, Mr. Powell says he has grown and prospered along with his town.

OUESTION: There is a perception that Ocean City is a drain on the state, that Ocean City is always asking for money for beach replenishment, new buildings -- those kinds of expensive projects -- and that Ocean City never gives anything back. What's your reply?

ANSWER: Ocean City is the best piece of real estate in Maryland, as far as fiscal responsibility and income to the state.

We have an assessed tax base here of over $1.7 billion. It's a gold mine for the state. The million dollars the state gives each year for beach maintenance is peanuts compared to what it gets back.

Here's an example: The state built the original convention hall at a cost of $3 million. We took it over, and each year the state takes more than $3 million back in taxes. We estimate that they'll take between $10 million and $12 million from the new convention center we want to build.

Q: How crucial is a new convention center in your plan of making this a year-round resort?

A: It's very important, and we're looking at it right now. We're going to go before the legislature this session for a new one. We've outgrown the one we have.

You don't need a convention hall in the middle of the summer. The people are already here. When you really need the convention hall is in the "shoulder" seasons and the winter season to bring these people in.

A new one should be built where the present one is. It will be enlarged with new additions. We'll go from a maximum of about 3,500 people who can fit in the present one to about 10,000. We guess the cost will be between $35 million and $40 million.

Q: You and the Town Council have more than $4 million budgeted this year for tourism and community relations. In 1984, for example, you had no money set aside for that. Why the change?

A: The city has spent an awful lot of money to promote tourism. Our advertising budget alone is well over $1 million.

Most of the shows we have -- Sunfest and Springfest -- are geared to extend the seasons.

In the summer, if you have the weather the people will be here. When you're full, you're full. We apply ourselves to extending the seasons, and it's paid off.

One of the reasons people come here now is golf. A lot of hotels and restaurants have golf packages, which we didn't have three years ago. It comes down to this -- you have to spend money and come up with something new if you want to stay on top.

Believe me, other areas are doing the same thing.

Q: The governor and other leaders want to see public schools open throughout the year. What effect would that have on Ocean City?

A: I hope they don't do it.

I'll get in trouble for saying this, but I think there's something the American public has lost, and that's home life. Going to school all year isn't going to help.

A lot of it started when women starting seeking jobs. I'm not taking anything away from them. I understand that to have all these goodies we want now, both the husband and the wife have to work.

But if you take both parents away from the home, and in comes a baby sitter or the nursery school, something is not being done. Family life is not what it once was.

Families need that week or two to come to the beach and be together. Sure, if they make the kids go to school all year, it's not going to help our business here. But it's not going to help family life, either.

Q: You have said the time may be nearing for Fish Powell to step out of politics and relax a little, do some traveling and spend more time with your three grandchildren. Is that likely?

A: I've loved every minute of it, but next September, when this term is up, I'll be 66.

Anyone who grows a little older would agree that you tend to start to tire a little easier. I certainly don't have the fight in me that I had five years ago or 15 years ago. There comes an age when it's time to let go.

I'm not going to say today that I won't run again. But I really have my doubts that I will.

Q: Many retirees are choosing Ocean City as a primary residence. What effect are these people having on growth policies?

A: The attitude that bothers me the most is when they say they don't want any more buildings or any more traffic.

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