OCEAN CITY – What some might have viewed as a simple public relations type photo opportunity might just turn into something beneficial for the town of Ocean City.
On Monday, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot and Mayor Rick Meehan took a stroll of sorts on the Boardwalk, speaking to visitors and merchants about the state of the local economy and listening to concerns from all parties.
Although some people might have passed off the walk as a political “photo opp”, Meehan said that it may lead to one of the town’s currently shelved capital projects getting serious consideration for stimulus funding.
Plans to revamp the Caroline Street Comfort Station, which is a bunker type restroom facility that dates back to the 1950’s, have been shelved indefinitely since the town instilled a halt on all capital projects in the resort. However, according to City Engineer Terry McGean, the estimated $1.2 million dollar project is ready to go, and as “shovel ready” as it can ever be.
By the time Meehan and Franchot made their way to Caroline Street, they had spoken with numerous merchants and visitors, but Meehan said the conversation turned a bit more business-like once he showed Franchot the condition of the station.
“Sometimes show and tell is a lot easier than just submitting paperwork,” said Meehan. “[Franchot] has a definite interest in tourism and Ocean City as a whole, and he recognized the huge crowds that the station services, and the obvious need to provide upgraded amenities in that area of town.”
Although Franchot didn’t promise that the project would get stimulus funding, Meehan was optimistic that if the town chooses to resubmit the project for stimulus consideration, that something may work out in the town’s favor.
McGean said the project involves tearing down the existing structure and rebuilding it entirely of “green” materials and will include a covered stage in between the new restroom facilities.
“The plan is to rebuild with all salvaged materials, so there would be a vegetative roof, high efficiency lighting and fixtures, as well as solar chimneys and a natural ventilation system to keep it cool,” said McGean.
The location of the station would also move literally to the head of Caroline Street, according to McGean, who also noted that the firemen memorial, which neighbors the building would be unaffected by the project, should it be granted funding.
From the comptroller’s perspective, whose main duties are to collect taxes from all over the state, Ocean City is a huge revenue generator, and both he and the mayor seemed very genuine when talking with visitors and merchants.
“I introduced him to Kevin Gibbs, who runs the Dough Roller on the Boardwalk, and [Franchot] thanked him personally for not only rebuilding after their fire, but rebuilding bigger and better,” said Meehan.
Joseph Shapiro, who serves as the comptroller’s director of communications, said Franchot “thoroughly enjoyed” his stroll on the Boardwalk and found the talks with people to be “extremely productive.”
“Mr. Franchot likes to talk to people on the front lines, and there is no one that is on the front lines more than small businesses like the ones on the Boardwalk,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro also noted that Franchot was much in favor of the town’s planned multi-million dollar expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
“He realizes the importance of having a state-of-the-art building and staying competitive in order to draw big business and convention to Ocean City, as it is obviously a big generator of tax revenue,” he said.
Across the state, tax revenue was down by “record levels” in the month of May alone, according to Shapiro, and perhaps a part of Franchot’s walk was to look at new things that could bring in revenue and talk to people that play a part in the acquisition of the aforementioned revenue.
“Franchot doesn’t believe that this is a time to raise taxes, or instill any new ones either,” said Shapiro.
In the end, what could have simply been a leisurely stroll and a few handshakes with the general public, at least for now, seems like it could potentially “get the ball rolling” on a shelved project that’s been on the city’s wishlist, but not necessarily its crucial shortlist.