OCEAN PINES — About 15 minutes into his recent presentation on the concept plan for replacing the Yacht Club the projector displaying OPA General Manager Bob Thompson’s PowerPoint presentation went on the fritz. A women in the front commented on the outage but Thompson didn’t hear her clearly.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I said, ‘You’ve worn it out.’”
Thompson laughed. “I probably have,” he said. Over the last several months, in addition to budget presentations he has given this talk or one very much like it nearly 10 times. The slides change depending upon how much time he expects to commit to the talk but the message is unchanging.
Thompson’s evidence indicated the Yacht Club must be replaced and given that, he believes he has a plan that will make the operation not only viable but also profitable. While he has given the talk several times, when he spoke to the membership Saturday the theme changed slightly as Thompson focussed on the economic logic of a complete replacement.
Over the last four decades, the Yacht Club has been repaired as needed in an effort to make the building habitable without making too much of an investment.
Generally, the thrust has been that since the Yacht Club tends to be an economic loser, investing too much into its upkeep amounted to throwing good money after bad. According to Thompson the bill for years of a make-do attitude is about to come due and the membership would best benefit from a total replacement.
To that end, Thompson began with a systematic review of the repairs that must be made in the Yacht Club for basic safety and efficiency reasons. Although the facts didn’t change drastically from the previous presentations, Thompson placed new emphasis on the dangers of trying to bring the building up to code without a total rehabilitation.
“If you renovate the whole building needs to be brought up to code” Thompson said.
It was a statement that found some objection. He said that Worcester County Code requires that if the amount of work that is scheduled to be done equals 50 percent of a building’s value, the entire building must be brought up to code.
Given the expense of much of the work, Thompson supposed that even a partial rehab would easily surpass the 50 percent of value mark.
One questioner pointed out that if, for example, the OPA did the renovation piecemeal it could be done for less money and without having to bring the entire building up to code all at once.
Thompson accepted the premise but objected to the notion on two separate grounds. The first was that once an inspector comes to see some completed work, other needed work might be discovered and ordered brought up to code as part of a single job’s completion.
Secondly, Thompson pointed out that piecemeal work was precisely how the building reached its current state and that it was irresponsible at this point to continue down a path that would result in the continued need for emergency repair and the kind of aesthetic patching that detracts from the Yacht Club’s showplace status.
Moreover, Thompson said that the lack of ADA accessibility and the general state of the building when considered as a part of the community warranted replacement. He said it was bothersome that, for example, the Yacht Club couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair-bound employee and, as it stood, was a bit of a hardship for any wheelchair-bound guests at weddings and other functions.
“Our community deserves better,” he said. “We need to be better than that.”
The Campus Concept
In the same way that Thompson changed the replacement pitch to focus on the potential downsides of a piecemeal renovation, in talking about the concept for a new Yacht Club Thompson emphasized how it would be used to get the most return for the membership’s investment.
The biggest part of this was Thompson’s reliance on what he called the “Campus Concept” — a way of looking at the entire area the Yacht Club could serve rather than considering the building in a vacuum.
The Yacht Club Campus includes the Mumford Landing Pool, the Ocean Pines Marina, the Yacht Club pool and the Yacht Club itself. Thompson said that in speaking with the architects to work on a design for the area, the focus was not so much on how the Yacht Club should be laid out but rather how the Yacht Club could become a more integral part of the area.
As an example, Thompson said that as it stands now the parking lot is the most efficient way to get from the Mumford’s Landing Pool to the Yacht Club. He said this may prevent parents from sending their children over to grab a quick lunch.
But more than that, the Yacht Club, he said, is no longer positioned to take advantage of the view of Ocean City or of the facilities second biggest fair weather asset: the deck.
Thompson’s concept for a rebuilt Yacht Club repositions it to not only take better advantage of the view and the outdoor dining potential, but also takes the Marina into account as part of the Campus Concept. By repositioning the Yacht Club, Thompson believes the Marina offices could be incorporated into the new facility. This will make the Yacht Club and the Marina not only operate better together but also act as a mechanism for better enticing boaters into the club.
Possible the most important way Thompson refocussed his Yacht Club presentation was with a bit of better definition on the proposed business plan. While the plan remains a bit indistinct, it is so by design. Thompson has begun the “big picture” work with the intention of having help on the details when he brings a new food and beverage manager on this spring.
Greater staff accountability
For the first time since the dismissal of former Food and Beverage manager Joe Reinhart, Thompson was openly critical of the past operations and provided a fair critique of the failings at the Yacht Club specifically vowing to end poor practices.
One point he made, for example, was that he was more than once called to the Yacht Club because people weren’t being seated in the sandy dining section because the wait staff didn’t prefer to cary the food through the sand. Another concern was the amount of food waste related, not to ineptitude, but rather to a culture where menu creativity was supplanted by the knowledge that costs weren’t closely examined.
The days, Thompson said, where it was assumed that the Yacht Club couldn’t survive without member subsidy would come to an end.
“We don’t pay rent, so how is it we didn’t make money?” Thompson said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The new Food and Beverage director will be expected to keep food and labor costs in line with industry standards. Success at that alone will all but guarantee, he said, that the Yacht Club will stop running at huge deficits.
Thompson said that during this fiscal year the OPA was successful in driving revenues at the Yacht Club but that food and labor costs were out of control. Food and labor costs are the most accurate indicators of whether or not a restaurant is running as efficiently as possible. Since they are also the cost lines that are the easiest to control as a percentage of sales, Thompson said more was already being done to keep those expenses in line.
“We’re monitoring the results month to month so we can move forward with the right decisions,” he said.
Changing staffing levels and finding more creative ways to reduce waste and eliminate spoilage are the best and easiest ways to make sure the operation is as efficient as practicable.
Three season dining
One of the parts of the concept for the a possible new Yacht Club that has changes since it was first presented was the suggested of open-air only dining on the first level. In Thompson’s original proposal he envisioned the first floor of the new building as al fresco. Member response to the concept was unfavorable, he said.
People pointed out that it was important to be able to seek shelter from the heat or the wind that might accompany the rain on a stormy day. The number and similarity of the responses convinced Thompson to alter the plans a bit, providing an option for sliding glass doors that could be used to close the area off in case air conditioning or rain shelter were needed.
He called the program a three-season dining plan and reiterated his expectation that the Yacht Club would close for the winter season, when business doesn’t warrant keeping the facility running at full capacity.
Under questioning from the attendees he moderated this statement saying that if the Country Club wasn’t open to serve dinner over the winter closing the Yacht Club might be reconsidered. What he wanted to make clear was that he had no illusions about being able to keep two facilities open full time off season.
Thompson once again encouraged attendees to reach out the members of the board of directors and make their opinions known. He said that if he received the board’s approval he could provide even better numbers and hopeful have a proposal ready for a summer referendum. Should a referendum pass, Thompson said construction on the estimated $2.5 million building could begin in the fall.