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Maybe the Country Club should be first up
in the big-ticket project sweepstakes

Commentary by Tom Stauss

An out-of-the-blue question by Ocean Pines Association President Tom Terry to OPA General Manager Bob Thompson during the April board of directors meeting may portend the direction that Thompson will recommend on how best to deal with Ocean Pines’ inventory of aging amenities.

Terry wanted to know if Thompson was willing to concede what some policy-makers have probably assumed, that Thompson and the general manager’s new facilities planning group will focus initially on the Yacht Club, whether to renovate it or rebuild it as was studied, discussed, sliced and diced last year by the former general manager’s task force to little or no avail and lots of frustration to go around.

Apparently not anticipating the question, Thompson said he didn’t know how he, working with his newly constituted planning group, would “stack and rack” a number of big-ticket projects said to be in Ocean Pines’ future.

Reading too much into a noncommittal response is risky business, but then again if the answer was as obvious as Terry may have thought, Thompson might have almost unthinkingly recited the expected answer.

He didn’t, and that gives rise to some speculation that perhaps another amenity – the Ocean Pines Country Club, for instance – will rise to top of the general manager’s list of amenities which requires some sort of attention from the OPA in the not-to-distant future. Of course, a majority of the board of directors may have its own ideas on how best to stack and rack the future projects list, and then act on it.

As last year’s process demonstrated, it may be fiendishly difficult to reach a consensus on whether to renovate the Yacht Club or rebuild it. Thompson and his planning group might reach a conclusion, the board of directors will weigh in, but property owners will have the final say on any proposal that exceeds the referendum threshold, which currently is about $1.5 million in project cost.

Anyone who thinks that there will be any quick and easy solution to the Yacht Club dilemma has been living in an alternate universe. The Yacht Club most assuredly will pit preservationists – those who prefer to repair and renovate -- against those who want to start over by tearing it down and building anew. The Progress finds itself firmly in the preservationist camp.

The path of least resistance, therefore, may lead to the Country Club, a forlorn shadow of its former self that perhaps could be resurrected with a major renovation but which probably could be more easily and less expensively replaced with a new building – golf pro shop and restaurant – without so much wasted space. Because it would be replaced with a one-story pro shop and restaurant/snackbar, perhaps a modest upgrade from today’s Terns Grill, and probably a golf bag storage area, there’s every reason to hope the price tag would not even trigger a referendum. Costs could be kept down by excluding locker rooms, which aren’t typical features at area golf pro shops and aren’t used by most golfers. The space savings could make the restaurant and pro shop areas somewhat larger.

If this replacement building costs much more than $1.5 million to build, that means it’s too extravagant. Tell contractors who want to bid on it that the turnkey cost can’t exceed $1.5 million, and contractors will come out of the woodwork to engage. A lot of local builders really need the work. These days, design/build might be a good fit for this kind of building – it certainly didn’t work last year for the Yacht Club – and Thompson’s implementation team, former OPA President Bill Rakow, contractor Ted Moroney and OPA Public Works Director Kerry Nelson, can oversee construction.

Here’s the logic behind ranking the Country Club number one in the big-ticket rack and stack sweepstakes.

Whatever is finally decided about the Yacht Club, it will probably be out of commission for an extended period of time, and having the Country Club or a replacement building up and running before the Yacht Club is closed for repairs, renovation or reconstruction would seemingly be a sensible course of action.

Of course it would be possible to do some quick and dirty renovations at the Country Club to make it ready for prime time under any scenario. But is the Country Club an amenity that really justifies the attention and stirs the preservationist juices? Is it architecturally appealing, does it have character in the manner of the Yacht Club? Can it be considered iconic? Do we truly need all that square footage when, for days on end, no one sets foot on the second floor? What would happen when, once a major renovation is under way, peeling back the walls and facades reveals too many horrors to count? Walk through the front door into the lobby and the reek of mildew hits you like a gale force; what does that say about what lurks beneath?

Perhaps victimized by too many renovations and repairs inside and out in recent decades, the Country Club may have had some appeal back in the 1970s when it was built, but it has not aged well. Unlike the Yacht Club, or at least three sides of the Yacht Club, the Country Club is one ugly building – granted, that’s a subjective judgment but who would argue otherwise? As configured, the second floor no longer serves much of a purpose. Maybe Casper Golf could turn the upstairs into a functional restaurant, but just how many restaurants should the OPA be operating when the Greater Ocean Pines area has lots of restaurant choices?

Thompson has considered using the upstairs for card-playing and maybe a work-out area, but parking at the Country Club is heavily used by golfers during the summer months and doesn’t really lend itself to alternative purposes.

If Thompson and his planning group are determined to take a more extravagant approach to a Country Club replacement – perhaps by proposing a two-story building with a full-featured, larger restaurant on the second floor – that no doubt will extend deeply into referendum territory. They will try that at their peril, but it’s always an option.

Should such a referendum fail, the more modest, economical and right-sized option should then be ready for implementation.

But why bother. Just decide the more modest, right-sized option is the better idea and get on with it.

– Tom Stauss

Uploaded: 5/17/2011