OCEAN CITY – The history of Sunset Park and the direction the city intends for the bayside recreational area was the subject of a recent internal study intended to gauge future directives.
A “Sunset Park Use, Analysis and Direction” plan prepared by Recreations and Parks Department was presented to the Recreation and Parks Commission last week.
According to the report, Sunset Park, built on the South Division Street road bed west of Philadelphia Ave., opened in September of 2006. The park is approximately .67 acres in size and is designed as a public plaza with onsite amenities to support public gathering and entertainment.
The Special Events Division of Recreation and Parks scheduled summer entertainment in the park beginning in 2007. That initial effort evolved into the Sunset Park Party Nights, a series of Thursday evening concerts from June through August featuring local and regional bands and the on-site sale of refreshments. This series has proven to be the most successful and enduring publicly sponsored program in the park.
Sunset Park hosted 22 public and private events in 2012. The uses included three weddings, nine concerts as part of the Sunset Park Party Nights series, a production of “Romeo and Juliet” by the Brown Box Theatre Company, Children’s Day hosted by the Ocean City Life Saving Museum and seven evening programs for Light Up Downtown, sponsored by the Ocean City Downtown Association. Events were scheduled in the park from May through December.
The Recreation and Parks staff has discussed and considered future uses for the park and has conferred with OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin.
The options include, continuing to provide Sunset Park Party Night on Thursday evenings in July and August as a cooperative venture between the town and OCDC, continue to promote Sunset Park as a unique downtown venue suitable for events and programs scheduled through Recreation and Parks facility reservation program, encourage the Ocean City Life Saving Museum and Brown Box Theatre Company to expand programming the park and promote Sunset Park as a wedding venue.
Also, encourage the OC Downtown Association to continue and expand its “Light Up Downtown” programs in December, encourage the Coast Guard to host a community education day at the park, explore the possibility to conduct an Autumn Food Festival based on the model of the Crab Soup Cook-off, explore the possibility to conduct an Autumn Food Festival based on the model of Crab Soup Cook-off, encourage the National Aquarium to conduct programs in the park, consider a Spring or Fall movie night at the Park and provide funding in a future bond issuance for the pier construction at Sunset Park currently in the town’s Capital Improvements Plan.
Councilman Dennis Dare brought up an initiative that was added to Ocean City’s Code in the 1980s. The Bayside Boardwalk Plan concept was created to better circulate business and enhance Ocean City’s visitors experience by extending the resort’s famous boardwalk from the ocean side around the Inlet and down the bayside up to 4th Street.
“The Boardwalk does well but if you rent a store 20 feet off of the Boardwalk it does not do well. People walk down the Boardwalk. They don’t explore the side streets. Baltimore Ave. business has deteriorated over the years, so from a development standpoint we are always trying to think of ways to get people to explore all of the downtown, not just the Boardwalk … The idea of Sunset Park was it will have activity that will draw people through the downtown,” Dare said.
The town built a Boardwalk between 2nd and 4th streets along the bay and inserted into the code that any future development in the remaining areas would include the construction of Boardwalk.
According to Dare, the puzzle pieces started coming together when the old Holt’s Landing at South Division St. was demolished and a bulkhead was built and a boardwalk along with it. When Worcester House was built, a Boardwalk was also built. Cropper’s Concrete was demolished and the property is vacant, and when it becomes developed another piece of the bayside Boardwalk will be incorporated.
“As properties have developed that concept has been developed, by code, and the idea was over time the bayside would develop and the boardwalk would become a reality,” Dare said. “Its 30 years later and there has been some progress but my point is we should recognize that in Sunset Park that the Boardwalk Development Plan plays an integral part.”
The commission was in consensus to have Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster amend the report to add a future use item to include Sunset Park into the Bayside Boardwalk Plan.
The Sunset Park Use and Analysis plan will be forwarded to the City Manager’s Office for comment, and then will be presented to the full Mayor and City Council.