OC Hopes To Iron Out Downtown Park Lease

OCEAN CITY – Hopes to begin work on the Downtown Recreation Complex by the year’s end remained high this week, as town officials moved forward with design discussions in hopes of finally reaching an agreement with the county over the land.

The Downtown Recreation Complex, to be located between 3rd and 4th streets from Philadelphia Ave. to the bay, hit a roadblock last year when the city and county failed to come to an understanding over the land.

The city has remained reluctant to continue with the project until a lease for the county-owned land could be negotiated. Last year, the Mayor and Council requested a long-term lease of the land of at least 20 years, but was rebuffed when the county offered up a 15-year lease. As a result, the project was pulled from the recent bond issuance, placing the project on hold indefinitely.

The project contains two parts, the skate park renovations and the construction of a new park area. The park promises to increase the aesthetic appeal of the area, slow traffic along St. Louis Ave., connect the essentially separate sections of the current park, and revamp the downtrodden fields and area. Overall, the project is estimated to cost the town $3.75 million.

After failing to negotiate an appropriate lease for the land, the Mayor and Council took a different approach, opting to point out instances where city-owned land had been deeded to the county with no incidence. Both the 14th Street and 100th Street properties, home to the old and current libraries, respectively, were deeded to the county by the city under the condition the land be used for the sole purpose of the library. In the instance that the library is no longer the focus of the property, the land is to revert back to the city.

The city hopes to strike a similar deal with the county over the proposed downtown park, in which the county would deed the land to the city, with the understanding that the land would revert back to the county if it’s purpose as a park ceased.

A letter was sent to the county recently, outlining the request.

“We haven’t had any response that I know of as of yet,” said City Manger Dennis Dare, adding that the County Commissioners would likely be discussing the issue at an upcoming meeting.

In an effort to keep moving forward with the park, the town opted to dive into the design services phase in the interim. The Recreation and Parks Committee took time to discuss the designs at its meeting on Tuesday.

Ocean City Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster reported that the construction drawings are 90 percent complete with drawings of the area from the bay to St. Louis Ave. more detailed than before.

Shuster presented the most recent designs of the section of the park from St. Louis Ave. to the bay. The prominent entranceway will stand at the westernmost portion of the park. The entrance will be similar in appearance to the Boardwalk archway at North Division St. Although it seems unconventional to place the entranceway at the bayside portion of the park, Shuster explained that the aim is to have the entranceway seen from the bridge and from the water.

“We wanted to create an entrance that was clearly visible from the bay. You’ll be able to see this from the bridge,” he said.

The basketball courts have also been reconfigured, following several complaints from the basketball community about the size of the court.

The plans originally called for the courts to be shortened to 74 feet in length to make room for a walkway that will span the entirety of the park. The current courts are 84 feet long.

After several discussions, the court length has been finalized at 82 feet, which is the same length as a standard high school court.

“I believe that we’ve done our part to use every design flexibility to achieve a layout that should be satisfactory to the basketball players,” said Shuster.

The walkway will remain adjacent to the courts, according to Shuster.

While no official word has been heard back from the county, the committee remained hopeful that ground could be broken on the project by the end of the year.

“We could go out to bid in September, so we’re on schedule to move ahead,” said Shuster. “We are on schedule to have work begun late fall this year.”