Downtown Park Plan Adjusted After Concerns Aired

OCEAN CITY – After hearing complaints from residents in regards to the plan to shorten the basketball courts at 4th Street, the Recreation and Parks Committee has unanimously agreed to adjust the plans for the downtown park so that the basketball courts will remain at regulation length.

The master plan for the Downtown Recreation Complex, or the Bayside Park, were presented to the Mayor and Council in July, outlining plans that included expanding the Ocean Bowl Skate Park, widening St. Louis Ave. as well as slowing traffic along St. Louis Ave., losing the baseball fields and connecting the two sections of the park with a walkway that would allow access from Philadelphia Ave. to the bay. The plans also called for a shortening of the basketball courts from 84 feet to 74 feet.

Concerned citizens and seasoned basketball players appeared before the Parks and Recreation Committee on Tuesday to explain the necessity of the 84-foot courts.

Area attorney Peter Ayers Wimbrow III explained that the current 84-foot courts were already the bare minimum and that any reduction would deem the courts useless.

A regulation high school basketball court measures 84 feet in length. College and pro courts are longer to accommodate not only the increased size of players but also the increased level of play.

"Once players get to that level, players are stronger, bigger and faster," Wimbrow explained. "They need more room."

Although there is no chance for an extension in the courts, Wimbrow appealed that further shortening the courts beyond an already reduced point was unfair to the players. He added that smaller courts would increase the chance of injuries and fights.

The reason for the outlined shortening of the court in the plan was to allow for a pathway between the skate park wall and the courts. The pathway would allow people to walk through the recreation park from Philadelphia Ave. to the bay.

"Nobody’s ever asked to shorten a tennis court," Wimbrow said, pointing out that shortening a basketball court would prove to be equally ludicrous.

Long-time basketball player and resident Dennis Naughton agreed that a shortened court would be detrimental to the community and would dissuade locals and visitors from using the popular courts.

According to Naughton, courts that are shorter than 84 feet in length cannot accommodate the typical five-on-five basketball game and would most likely result in four-on-four games. Although Naughton has facilitated such games in Berlin, he assured the committee that no visitors would want to play four-on-four at the downtown court.

"It’s a recreation department and you’re supposed to be providing recreation, not deducting it," Naughton said to the committee.

Councilman Jim Hall agreed that the courts were a vital part of the park but supported the initial intentions of the plans, explaining that the goal was to provide a peaceful, tranquil green area for residents and visitors to enjoy in the downtown area. "We think this is going to be a really, really cool place," Hall said.

Tom Shuster, Recreation and Parks Director, explained that one of the goals of the park was to take the current fragmented sections and pull them together as one functional park. As a result of this goal, the idea for a walkway was born and the idea to shorten the basketball courts followed en suite.

Council President Joseph Mitrecic explained to the concerned players that when viewing the plans he was unaware the effect that the shortening would have on the courts overall.

"I don’t want to lose the path, but I also think it’s important to have basketball courts that are playable," he said.

The committee suggested a compromised length, shortening the pathway so that the court would be 80 feet in length, only losing a total of four feet.

Although four feet seems an insignificant loss, Naughton and Wimbrow pointed out that losing four feet off of a court that is on the verge of being too short to begin with would have the same negative effects as losing ten feet.

After further deliberation over how to keep the court at 84 feet in length while keeping the pathway, it was agreed that a solution was plausible. The committee voted unanimously to keep the courts at the regulation high school length and width.