A hot property just might expand this summer-time resort into a wintertime spa featuring warm pools heated from deep underground, city officials say.

The city is quietly negotiating to buy an undeveloped area, on the bay side of north Ocean City between 94th and 130th streets, that sits atop a suspected source of geothermal energy.

If the energy believed to be there can be economically tapped, it could add a whole new dimension to the town's tourist business, according to city attorney Dale R. Cathell, who is negotiating the deal.

"Add warm springs for the public in the cold months to our summer sun, sand and surf, and we'd have everything a resort could ask except a ski slope," Cathell said. "And maybe we could build a mountain with our bull-dozens.

Johns Hopkins University scientists, workings under a federal contract, have conferred with city officials about the area's geothermal energy potential.

While they would not comment on, the discussion, Cathell said the scientists "told us that Ocean City and the Delmarva Peninsula make up one of the three top-priority areas being surveyed along the East Coast as potential energy sources."

Mayor Harry Kelley, never one to miss a chance to boost his town's fortunes and image as a family resort, said tapping the geothermal energy could be a "bonanza" for the city and "a first in this area.

Both Kelley and Cathell, however, cautioned that the proposal is still in its early stages.

The potential energy source was found in the mid-1940s when an oil company tried to drill a well here. It failed to stike oil but did find pools of boiling water as the men drilled more than a mile below the surface, according to detailed logs of the operation.

Cathell said the purchase was being considered not primarily for the energy, but because the city has little property that far uptown. Two tracts are being looked at.

A municipal recreation center and possible, administrative offices could be built on the site, he said. "But if the geothermal energy potential works out, that could be a bonus."

If the city buys the land, it probably would ask the state and federal governments for financial help in building the recreation facility and for drilling an expensive test well to see whether the hot water can be tapped economically.