The future of Ocean City Solid season: Weather aided resort this summer, but officials are smart to take long view.

September 06, 1997

OCEAN CITY could invent a boardwalk french fry that didn't cause you to gain a pound. Or synchronize all 59 traffic signals on Coastal Highway. Or retrofit the public water fountains to gush Coca-Cola, the town's ''official'' soft drink.

None of this would matter without good weather. That's a prerequisite for a strong season at Maryland's Atlantic resort. It's the main reason this summer went so swimmingly.

After a chilly June start, most of July and August was hot and dry. Room tax revenues were up 14 percent in June and 7 percent in July.

This good weather only served to underline the town's vitality. It can be seen in the nearly complete, $30 million expansion that will triple the size of the convention center and in the replacement of several circa-1950s hotels.

Jim Mathias, a Baltimore native who is the first person not raised in Ocean City to become the town's mayor, has pursued a decidedly unconventional approach to economic development. He agreed to sell Coca-Cola the ''pouring rights'' at town events for $1.1 million, undetered by criticism that he was ''selling out.''

He has also sparked controversy by pushing to replace an old, concrete part of the boardwalk with pine slats as part of a larger $3.5 million beautification project. If evoking nostalgia worked for Camden Yards, he argues, it will work for a beach town that has been luring city folks since the turn of the century.

Others argue the concrete part of the boardwalk hasn't deterred tourists thus far, and wood isn't worth the fuss. Perhaps a synthetic material that resembles wood resolve matters.

The wood-vs.-concrete debate is really a battle between aesthetics and practicality -- an argument as ancient and stubborn as the sea itself. More important is the fact that Ocean City is willing to re-examine the tried and true.

Town business and government leaders recognize that the stereotypical middle-class vacation of the past -- dad and mom in the front of the station wagon, kids in the back, going to the same place the same week every year -- has been undercut by cheap airfares, more disposable dollars and more comfortable vehicles and better roads for more distant jaunts. Competition for the travel dollar is fierce.

Complacency is Ocean City's second-biggest threat -- after Mother Nature.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.