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Trimpers consider ending a long ride

The Baltimore Sun

Trimpers consider ending long Ocean City ride ... After entertaining generations of beach-goers with a conglomeration of rides, arcades and games, Ocean City's signature boardwalk business - Trimper Rides - could be headed for its 117th and final season.

Members of the family that runs the company say skyrocketing tax assessments, along with disputes among shareholders, could force them to close after this summer unless they get some form of tax abatement or other financial help.

Doug Trimper, vice president of the family business that controls most of a three-block parcel from Dorchester Street to the Ocean City Inlet at the southern tip of the old downtown district, said yesterday that the familiar whirling rides and noisy arcades will be open this summer. The hand-carved 105-year-old carousel will continue its circular path this season as well.

After that, 14 family shareholders - the heirs of Daniel and Margaret Trimper, the Baltimore tavern owners who opened for business at the beach in 1890 - will likely consider selling most of the boardwalk property.

"In October, we'll sit down and take a look at where things are financially," said Trimper, 55, whose father, Granville, is the company president. "I can't say how long; it could be a couple years. But we are definitely going out."

Under the state's assessment process, Trimper said, the family business's tax bill increased by $387,000 last year and by an additional $914,000 this year.

The assessed value of Trimper properties was set at $24 million in 2004 but jumped to $62.9 million this year.

Trimper fired off a series of letters to local, state and congressional offices in the past month, hoping that going public might prompt a move to assist the family operation, much as state farm property is taxed at lower rates.

Trimper also complained that the Worcester County commissioners recently approved a study of the feasibility of locating a new amusement park in the county that would compete with his family's decades-old rides.

Property values in Ocean City have risen 16 percent to 20 percent a year over the past three years, said Martha Bennett, the town's finance director.

Del. James N. Mathias Jr., a former Ocean City mayor who won his first term in the General Assembly last fall, said he and other state and local leaders would be willing consider some form of tax relief to guard historic businesses.

"It's not a totally new idea - it was discussed over the years," Mathias said. "Clearly, there are landmark attractions. It's what people dream about their vacations here."

Ocean City Mayor Richard W. Meehan says construction of a $15 million parking garage near the Ocean City Inlet - a project that has been talked about for years - would undoubtedly boost the Trimpers' business, along with other property owners who have been hit with the same spiraling property tax increases assessed on homes and property around the state.

"I hope the Trimpers are here for years and years," Meehan said. "They're an institution in Ocean City. They're synonymous with what Ocean City has always been about."

Business leaders say the Trimper family's rides and arcades are the foundation of childhood memories that lure adults back to Ocean City, which draws 8 million visitors a year. And the business is an important part of the local economy, with the company's $2.6 million annual payroll for 250 to 350 employees, including 35 to 40 year-round workers.

"We're very, very worried," said Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Association. "The boardwalk is the ultimate tourist attraction. A lot of Trimper rides have been here since our parents rode them."

Jones and others around town fear that that any sale of Trimper property might draw potential buyers from the gambling industry.

"We're always concerned about slots or casinos anywhere on the Eastern Shore," said Joseph Mitrecic, president of the town council. "And Trimper is a true cornerstone for Ocean City."

Granville Trimper, 79, is the patriarch of the family, grandson of the company's founders. He has opposed selling property or the amusement business. Still, he has hedged his bets by buying a one-third-acre parcel that could be used for eight to 10 boardwalk rides among the 40 or more the company now operates.

Bill Hopkins, a nephew who works as an architect in North Carolina, has suggested the company sell a portion of its holdings and consolidate the rides and arcade.

"I don't know what's going to happen," said Granville Trimper. "My three kids and their spouses and nine grandchildren all work in the park. Everybody works as soon as school is over. I would hate to be the Trimper who closed it all up."


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