Leonardtown, MD – At their July 23 meeting, the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County(CSMC) had a number of new items brought to their attention that could shift the economic diversification of St. Mary’s County in the not so distant future.

With plenty of recent talks and debates over how to fund and successfully bring a community center or a YMCA into the county, the commissioners decided it was time to really “dig down into the needs… versus what we just want” as Commissioner Todd Morgan [R] told theBaynet.com. After brief discussion, the board of commissioners unanimously voted to create a new 10-12 member “exploratory committee” to determine the feasibility of bringing in a YMCA.

“A YMCA would be a way to resolve the need and the want [of a community center] at the end of the day,” Morgan explained. “Obviously we can’t have both, it’s one or the other. The question that has to be answered is the ‘needs analysis’ that we focused on today. As I’ve said, there is a great need in Lexington Park for a community center/YMCA across the board, which I agree with completely. The question I have to ask myself is when we do this ‘needs analysis,’ how much is it going to cost us to do this.”

There was a discussion of getting equal access to a community center from all parts of the county — it has been a talking point for advocates of the center.

Morgan felt strongly that the best place lay foundation would be in the “Lexington Park vicinity.”

“I believe this is a real need, and Lexington Park is the place it has to be. Period. That is where the need is, that is where the socio-economic diversification is, that is where it is really needed,” Morgan said. “Now [we need to] start putting a framework around it so we can be acting in a fiscally responsible manner and we try to satisfy as many needs of the community as we can, within the boundaries and restraints we got.”

Under Recreation and Park’s FY2020 Approved Capital Projects, $75,000 has already been allocated towards studying the need potential of the department, which many anticipated would go towards studying a community center.

However, at their morning meeting, State Senator Jack Bailey [R-St. Mary’s, Calvert] presented a second project that could synonymously utilize a portion of that funding for the common goal of improving the local quality of life.

Bailey’s presentation, of which he spoke alongside Jodi Stanalonis from the Maryland Stadium Authority, briefed the commissioners as to a $52,000 multi-phase study that the MSA would like to utilize in exploring the potential for constructing a regional-sports complex in St. Mary’s County.

After hearing tempting references to the potentially massive boosts this project could bring in both economic activity and tourism, the optimistic commissioners decided to table the topic for their Aug. 20 meeting, in order to review the feasibility of buying into this study.

“Before they put their foot in it, they want to make sure you have buy-in, so you’ve got to come up with $30,000 for phase one,” Bailey explained. “When we talked about between phase one and phase two how much this study would entail [in] total costs, it would be $52,000 for the county or if they could get investors to help with that… but the Stadium Authority’s part of that would be over $400,000. That’s the commitment that [MSA] is willing to make — the county just has to make the first move.”

Since the project was presented as more time-oriented than the construction of a community center, likely as a result of the “prestigious” MSA board planning to also buy into the project, Commissioner Mike Hewitt [R] suggested shifting the necessary first-phase ‘Market Analysis’ funding in the amount of $30,000 from the pot of money anticipated to go towards studying the feasibility of a community center.

“It’s one thing to bring the idea, another thing to bring the checkbook…” Hewitt said. “I would just like to read this and say, ‘[Help] me understand this.’ I mean hey look, if we can get $400,000 benefit for [$30-50,000], we’ve got [$75,000] already, maybe we can allocate some of that…”

St. Mary’s County Youth Advisory Committee Member, Joshua Guy, when asked about the benefits that both projects could bring to the county emphasized their importance to not just the county, but to youth in the county specifically.

“A YMCA could serve as a community center for St. Mary’s County, however I don’t know that a YMCA would be used by students,” Guy explained. “Many high school students have been using gyms, parks, and school basketball courts to remain active outside of school… A sports complex is more likely to go through under the current commissioner board. Tourism and revenue would increase, which would benefit the county. It appears that this would be more beneficial than the community center, which would likely run on no revenue gain for the county.

A sports complex would be beneficial to many local [youth] sports teams and leagues. This would be a win for the entire county.”

The question that is yet to be answered is what will the results of the sports complex study determine, should the commissioners move forward at their Aug. 20 meeting.

“Then [people outside of the county] sit there and say, ‘what do you have going for you in St. Mary’s that they don’t?’,” Commissioner Morgan said. “We have opportunities. We have more available hotel rooms on Fridays and Saturday nights than you can imagine. We have every opportunity [for] shopping. We have movie theaters and chain restaurants. Everything is sitting right there; the guy told me we are sitting on a gold mine. Well to invest in a gold mine, you have to dig the gold. You have to invest in the mine to get the gold out. So I am not opposed to investing money to making this thing work… You tie that to the idea of putting a YMCA or a community center here, I mean I don’t see a downside to all this.”

Contact Zach at zach.hill@thebaynet.com.