Improving Downtown’s Look One Building At A Time

OCEAN CITY – Slowly but surely, the downtown area of Ocean City is becoming much more aesthetically pleasing and the improvement is much more than just a façade.

Ten years ago, the downtown area of Ocean City looked more out of date and borderline run down in certain areas than it did an “historical” district, but with the help of programs offered by the state of Maryland and the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), visitors are spending more time downtown and have a bit more to visit, rather than merely driving through it on their way to the Inlet parking lot.

OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said that the non-profit group has helped improve and renovate 58 commercial properties and 11 residential properties downtown since 2000, with an additional dozen in the works today. In addition, OCDC sparked the renovation of Somerset Street Plaza and the creation of the hidden gem of downtown, Sunset Park.

“With the little bit of financial support that we are able to offer property owners through our programs, we’ve seen some owners move forward with projects that they probably wouldn’t have done in lieu of the current economy,” said Irwin.

OCDC received approximately $150,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Development last year as well as an additional $100,000 each from the town of Ocean City and Worcester County to provide aid and give incentives to property owners who would like to renovate or redevelop their downtown Ocean City properties.

The Community Legacy Program, which includes exterior façade improvements in both residential and commercial properties, has helped improve the aesthetics and the functionality of several of downtown’s notable places, including Pickles Pub, the Ambassador Inn, the Taylor House and various residential properties by giving anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 to the owner as an incentive.  Essentially, the only thing that the OCDC asks for in return is that the property owners renovate the building in compliance with the town’s building guidelines.

“For the last two years, we have restricted the maximum level of assistance to $5,000 in order to spread the grant funds around to more people and it seems to have worked well,” said Irwin.

The small percentage that the OCDC gives to the projects may pale in comparison to the actual cost of the renovations to the property owner, but, according to Kevin Baynes, director of the Maryland State Department of Housing and Development, OCDC’s efforts have set a strong precedent for community redevelopment for other municipalities statewide.

“Ocean City is definitely an anomaly compared to other historic districts that are trying to revitalize their neighborhoods because of how much the population fluctuates,” said Baynes, “but the OCDC does a fantastic job and are a model organization because they don’t just aim to redevelop the area, they are aiming to provide significant social benefits at the same time.”

OCDC’s target area for neighborhood revitalization is from the Inlet to 17th Street, and it has taken the idea a step further by instilling public art programs, such as the painted electrical boxes and the downtown welcome signage at the base of the Route 50 Bridge.

Baynes, who is in charge of allotting the money to OCDC and organizations like it across the state, said that since 2002, the state of Maryland has given OCDC over a million dollars for the community legacy program and the Neighborhood Business Works program, and he says that a look at the downtown area is proof positive that it’s been money well spent.

“Basically, we provide money to help organizations like OCDC make a difference in their town, and they in turn pass that money around to citizens who want to restore or improve their properties that may not be able to do so,” said Baynes. “We aim to give a facelift to neighborhoods and make some of the older buildings in historic districts look a bit more appealing to visitors.”

Irwin said that although the OCDC still has some money available for projects, he expects to obligate all the money soon.

For more information on the façade programs, go online to www.ocdc.org.

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