Site Problems Delay Projected Slots Opening

BERLIN – A handful of problems discovered during the demolition of the decades-old grandstand at Ocean Downs, along with delays in the approval process for improvements to Route 589, have put in jeopardy a planned Memorial Day 2010 opening for the state’s first slots venue at the historic racetrack.

In September, the Maryland Video Lottery Location Commission awarded the first slots license in the state to Ocean Downs on Route 589 in Berlin just south of Ocean Pines. The commission voted unanimously to approve track owner William Rickman, Jr.’s application for one of five slots licenses in the state with a plan for 800 video lottery machines in the short term with the potential to expand to as many as 1,500 in the future.

The approval set in motion an ambitious plan to convert the existing 34,000-square-foot grandstand at the track into a gaming to accommodate 600 slot machines at first, with an additional 200 added within a year of the casino’s opening. The plan called for the initial phase of the casino to be up and running by Memorial Day 2010, but a series of unforeseen setbacks discovered during the demolition of the existing structure have put that opening date in jeopardy.

As is often the case when older buildings are renovated, hidden problems were discovered when demolition crews began tearing into the old grandstand at Ocean Downs. In a letter to Maryland Video Lottery Location Commission Chairman Donald Fry dated Dec. 6, Rickman outlined a few of the issues, including problems with the structural steel of the facility and the presence of asbestos.

“Due to these unexpected site conditions, there will be an undetermined delay in the projected opening date of Memorial Day 2010,” the letter reads.

The plan calls for utilizing the basic structure and footprint of the old grandstand and converting the space into the new gaming area to host the initial 600 slot machines. However, according to Rickman’s letter to the commission, problems with the structural steel at the old facility have caused a significant setback.

“We have completed a structural steel survey in our grandstand and have discovered serious corrosion in many of the primary and secondary structural members, some of it very problematic, and requiring further investigation to determine if we have adequate strength for the renovation or if we need to take additional measures,” the letter reads.

The grandstand and many of the other buildings at Ocean Downs are over 60 years old and some of the older steel elements of the structure might not be compatible with new construction, further complicating the renovation effort, according to Rickman’s letter to the commission.

“We are currently awaiting coupon analysis of our steel cross sections from a material testing lab,” the letter reads. “The steel at Ocean Downs dates back to 1948 and it must be tested for strength and compatibility with the new steel order. Additionally, the layers of lead paint on the steel are being analyzed for welding compatibility.”

Issues with the steel at the old grandstand are some of the problems crews discovered when they began demolishing the old grandstand. Perhaps more alarming is the presence of asbestos throughout the old structure, which was discovered during the initial demolition effort already underway.

“We have discovered substantial asbestos in the building,” the letter reads. “The roof panels dating back to the original construction were painted with galvanized paint, which concealed this condition on initial observation.”

The discovery of asbestos in the old grandstand has brought the major renovation to a temporary standstill while contractors decide how to proceed.

“Upon commencement of demolition, the contractor discovered the asbestos,” the letter reads. “We have halted demolition of the asbestos portion of the project to investigate further. The structural engineer of record and the architect are in the process of determining how to retrofit design for these unexpected site conditions.”

No less important is State Highway Administration (SHA) approval on the Ocean Downs’ portion of the planned improvements to Route 589. While a much larger plan to renovate and expand the entire course of Route 589 is currently under consideration, Ocean Downs is responsible for improvements directly related to the impact of a slots venue at the old track. Thus far, SHA has not signed off on the track’s planned improvements, causing another potential setback for a planned Memorial Day opening.

“The State Highway Administration signed the Worcester County building permit for demolition purposes only,” the letter reads. “We have met with them regarding issues related to our entrance and are waiting for them to approve our Traffic Impact Study, which will then allow us to actually begin building construction when demolition is completed.”