OCEAN CITY – After hearing from locals turning out against the planned reduction of hours at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park, the Mayor and City Council agreed to work toward a compromise.
During a budget wrap-up on April 19, the council voted to have the skate park operate Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend during its normal hours, which is open seven days a week during daylight. The changes proposed begin the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend when it would continue to be open on weekends, holidays and all Worcester County school days off only. The skate park will be shut down during the months of January and February completely under the current plan. The reduction in hours will save the town approximately $20,000.
During Monday evening’s Mayor and Council legislative session, lifelong downtown Ocean City resident Debi Thompson Cook said the skate park is a major part of her family, which is full of skateboarders who hold year-long skate passes.
“You will lose the income from the year-round pass holders if you close down the skate park for a good chunk of the year,” she said. “For the sake of $20,000, it just seems so short sighted to me. There are so many kids and young adults … that need that skate park and give them somewhere productive to go.”
Cook added the council should take into consideration the Ocean Bowl’s employees as well.
“The employees there work really hard with no benefits … so I think the skate park is pretty cost effective,” she said. “I just really want you to reconsider this and what you’re doing.”
Realizing a line was about to form of those in opposition to the skate park operation being reduced, Councilman Joe Mitrecic interjected with a negotiation suggestion.
“We have talked about different ideas with the skate park and we know it’s an insignificant amount of money to some people, and it’s a large amount of money to other people. We have had … tremendous success with the mayor’s Surfing Committee and I ask the mayor to put a committee together that could do a summer study on the skate park,” he said.
Mitrecic made a motion for a Skate Park Committee to be formed while leaving the hours reduced and January and February closed as part of the proposed budget. The committee would study the Ocean Bowl throughout the summer to try to come up with a compromise between the town and the community in the off-season, since the proposed changes would not take effect until September.
“The Recreation and Parks Department has all the numbers that support the modified hours, so if we have the stake holders involved then we can have a discussion and maybe we can come up with some sort of compromise,” he said.
The council voted 6-1, with Councilman Brent Ashley opposed, to approve the formation of a Skate Park Committee. Ashley was in opposition believing the skate park should remain open within the proposed budget.
Next, Mike Durkin, who will graduate from Worcester Preparatory School this month and leave for college next fall, came before the Mayor and City Council to voice his concerns in person after starting a petition in opposition of the Ocean Bowl closing a couple of weeks ago that had received 472 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
“Every day after school I go to the skate park when I can, and I go on the weekends where I see all my friends,” he said. “It is pretty important to me … for a lot of people the skate park is about freedom because it’s not an afterschool sport, it isn’t something disciplined or structured, it’s just a place kids can go to have fun. It is a safe environment. It is also a very creative atmosphere and for a lot of kids that don’t feel comfortable in school sports or after school activities they can come to the skate park that is pretty accepting and an open atmosphere.”
Durkin furthered the skate park has become a part of Ocean City families’ everyday life where parents can trust dropping their children off to spend the day.
“The older kids … keep an eye on the younger kids and keep them out of trouble so they don’t get involved in something destructive where they don’t have to be out wondering the streets of Ocean City all day, possibly getting into trouble or possibly not, but if we can eliminate the risk that is great,” Durkin said.
Durkin pointed out while the Dew Tour is in Ocean City contractors are building the skate park near the country’s oldest continuous operating public skate park, which is a big marketing tool and helpful for the Dew Tour. To close it in the winter, Durkin said Ocean City would lose that title of being home to longest continually operated skate park.
“It is a great idea to have a Skate Park Committee like the Surfing Committee that did have a lot of success,” he said. “Leaving it open until then, if that is not practical in the budget maybe we can start looking for other solutions to balance the budget now so that we can attentively keep the skateboard park as open.”
Anne Cook, whose family holds two annual skate park passes, also supported the notion to form a Skate Park Committee.
“Something needs to be said about the employees of the skate park and how much they mean to the kids there. They are often times babysitters to the kids, watching over them, which really isn’t in their job and they need to be commended for that,” she said. “I really appreciate you guys being open minded and I think the committee is a step in progress in working with the community.”
Ocean City resident and “skateboarder advocate” Jim Solomon also supported the Skate Park Committee but recommended a year-long study before implementing any changes.
“I know that the committee is going to see in the summer time the employees are doing a great job over there, there is going to be a lot of the same kids that have season passes coming there on a regular basis, along with a lot of tourists that come to Ocean City knowing there is a skate park here and they are paying a daily basis to go to the skate park and go to the events,” he said. “Now, in the winter time it is a different story. It’s mostly seasonal memberships … it is a pretty large group of kids that are there every single day. I have seen these kids since they were little tykes and it is unbelievable what these kids have learned over the years from the skate park and they wouldn’t be able to go without it. Taking that away from these boys can be life changing for them.”