OCEAN CITY – A new laser tag venture that hopes to open in downtown Ocean City got a healthy dose of “the business” from the City Council, which expressed concerns over safety and its impact to the downtown area.
Lisa Conley of Elkton was admittedly “thrown off a bit” by the number of concerns that several council members vocalized during the discussion, and despite council’s eventual approval of the project, albeit with a one-year probationary period of conditional use attached to it, Conley still plans to bring laser tag to 203 S. Baltimore Avenue in downtown Ocean City.
“I was worried with the one-year conditional use period that it would be too much of a risk as I have to sign a long term lease and we have already invested $80,000 in equipment alone,” said Conley. “But, my landlord has agreed to change some of the verbiage in the lease in case the council puts too many conditions on my conditional use of the business next March.”
The council grilled the mother of six about several different subjects including noise, lack of parking and most notably, the close proximity of the business to the underage dance clubs in downtown Ocean City.
“I am very concerned about how close it is to the underage clubs,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight. “I just see a potential for something very bad to happen.”
Knight, along with council members Doug Cymek and Margaret Pillas, all expressed concern with the fact that Conley’s 20-year-old daughter, who will be running the business at night, could be overwhelmed by unruly crowds of youths who may be looking for trouble.
“I would suggest that you establish a good relationship with the police and have a plan in place in case something does happen,” said Cymek.
Conley contested that her business would run in a manner that caters more to families and that the younger crowd was not really the target audience for her “jungle-themed” laser tag business.
“The last thing we want is to have damage to our equipment,” said Conley. “Players are told before they go into the maze that they will be ejected from the game and lose their money if they misbehave, and the maze itself is designed to not allow anyone to run, so safety is addressed.”
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said on Wednesday that all of the storefronts in that area of downtown have a parking concern, citing that all of those businesses depend on pedestrian traffic to survive.
“The council was trying to stay conscious of what’s around the business, but I’m not sure if her business would cause the concerns that they were worried about, since laser tag is an amusement activity and there are lots of arcades and other amusements in the area,” said Smith.
Smith also noted the council might have been concerned because the amusement could promote violence in some sort of a subtle way.
“Anytime that something has a gun attached to it, there may be a psychological thing that might make people think that it promotes violence, and maybe the council was trying to safeguard against that,” said Smith.
Conley said that she has dealt with large crowds before and her staff would be able to handle any situation that comes their way.
“I can’t say that nothing bad is going to happen, it happens everywhere,” said Conley, “but what’s important is that we will handle it in a way that doesn’t get anyone hurt, nothing gets damaged, and we run a nice place for families to play.”
In the end, the council placed the caveats on Conley’s conditional usage of the building to install soundproofing to address their noise concerns, install a fence between the aforementioned and the neighboring building to address a safety concern, and required that a manager over the age of 20 must be in the building at all times.
“I think you are about to meet a very diverse and interesting crowd of customers down there, Mrs. Conley,” said Cymek, “I think you should be prepared to deal with problems.”
Conley must report back to City Council before March 31, 2010 for a reevaluation of her business, but she hoped to be open within the next week.