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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    A fresh set of eyes on Ocean Beach

    When news of New London potentially looking for new management options for Ocean Beach Park came to light last week, you could almost feel the pangs of nostalgia coming from anyone who has ever stepped foot on the beloved beach.

    Anyone who has lived in southeastern Connecticut for even a modest amount of time has spent a day or two at Ocean Beach, and likely has good memories.

    We’ve all been to banquets, weddings or anniversary parties at the venerable beach destination, and the memories of people who have lived here longer are even stronger.

    But there’s no escaping the fact that Ocean Beach Park has lost tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years. In the words of New London Mayor Michael Passero, “It’s a tough venue.”

    Ocean Beach Park still has a lot to offer. It features a half-mile boardwalk, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, arcade, miniature golf course, pavilion, banquet facilities, gym, water slides, nature walk and more. That’s on top of the brilliant views of the Thames River and New London’s Ledge Lighthouse, situated at the mouth of New London Harbor.

    The problem isn’t what the park has to offer, it’s what to do with it when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Ocean Beach Park, like any other waterfront venue, is weather and season-dependent. When it’s nice out, people go in droves. When it’s not, they do something else.

    “If the park makes money, the city makes money,” New London Finance Director David McBride said. “If it loses money, so does the city.”

    And therein lies the conundrum.

    The park, while owned by the city, is run by Sodexo Live!, formerly Boston Concession Group, which employs Dave Sugrue, who has been the park’s general manager since 1999, and has made a career at Ocean Beach, in good times and bad.

    But Ocean Beach Park again raised its prices this year, and it’s worth asking, “What are we paying for?” It’s essentially the same beach it’s been for the last few decades.

    In many ways, Ocean Beach presents the same set of problems for New London that Dodd Stadium does for Norwich. It’s a venue that should be – and is – vital to the city, but one that, in its current state, only has the potential to make money for a few months a year. The solution must come from some outside the box thinking.

    And maybe that’s why it’s time for some new ideas, to see what another company might be able to do. The park hosts an antique car show on Mondays during the warm months, but how about concerts, cook-offs and other parties? How about a driving school to take advantage of its expansive parking lot?

    Creating a committee to look at and explore ideas seems like a good start. All ideas should be welcome, and a city board could winnow out ones that don’t make sense and help identify the ones that could. Ocean Beach should still be considered a destination, and should be marketed as such.

    Ocean Beach Park’s sugar sand beach has been named one of the country’s 25 best by Travel + Leisure magazine each of the last three years, but it isn’t immune to rising prices, inflation, and supply and demand issues. The park still has to keep the lights on all year long, and it has infrastructure and maintenance to stay ahead of.

    Ocean Beach Park remains a city institution, and it should stay inexpensive and accessible to city residents. It is a source of comfort and fulfillment for many in the area, and it is still one of the city’s greatest resources. A fresh set of eyes and ideas might ensure it stays that way.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.