BERLIN – Municipal officials had their chance to weigh in with ideas for the former Tyson property as the consulting firm hired by the town launched its study of the site this week.
Representatives from EDSA, a Florida-based architectural services company, met with Berlin’s elected officials and department heads this week as they began a feasibility study of the former industrial site.
“There are a lot of program wish lists,” said EDSA’s Ryan Clifton. “Our task is to hone in on what’s feasible.”
Town officials voted last month to spend $34,500 with EDSA for a feasibility study of the 60-acre Tyson property. The town has plans to purchase the land from Berlin Properties North for $2.75 million.
On Wednesday, Clifton and his associates from EDSA toured Berlin and met with town leaders to gather their input. He said they were aware of the uses that had already been suggested for the site — things like a skate park, bike trails, concert venue, etc. — but wanted to see the land for themselves and talk to local officials.
“We look at and assess a problem from a holistic standpoint,” Clifton said.
Keith Weaver, also of EDSA, said the company had extensive experience in urban design and had worked on projects like Sailwinds Park in Cambridge. He said it would be important to make sure the Tyson site didn’t duplicate amenities and attractions already in the area. He also stressed the need for multiple uses of the land.
“We try to design spaces that never have just one purpose,” he said. “If they do, they’re dormant.”
Clifton said they would look at ways the site’s natural attractions, including water features, could be used in its design. Access and surrounding amenities will also be considered. He said the property’s proximity to the railroad tracks could prove advantageous, particularly as Worcester County officials were discussing plans for an excursion railroad through the area.
“The obvious opportunity we think is the train and how that could play into something here,” he said.
Town officials offered up plenty of other ideas when asked what they thought EDSA should take into account during the study process. Councilmember Dean Burrell was quick to point out the lack of swimming opportunities for children in Berlin. Councilmember Lisa Hall agreed.
“It’s amazing the number of people that live here and don’t know how to swim,” she said. “They never had the opportunity to learn. It’s a safety issue as well as a recreational issue.”
She said she had a pool in her backyard but would gladly give it up if there was a public pool available.
“Then we wouldn’t be wasting water in our backyard,” she said.
Mayor Gee Williams said there were plenty of local swimming options for affluent families, those that didn’t have to worry about transportation or pool fees. He said the Tyson property should be developed taking that into account.
“It has to be a public facility so money is not a factor,” he said.
He added that he wanted to see whatever was built there be something interactive and open year-round.
Clifton also asked about the town’s history. Hall mentioned peaches, poultry and grain but added that Berlin’s identity was also created by its proximity to Ocean City.
“We’ve always been the little spot outside Ocean City,” she said. “They’re going and staying in Ocean City but they’re coming here too because they want this.”
Williams pointed out that the town’s “heritage of hospitality” went back further than Ocean City. He said a century ago there were more hotels in Berlin than the beach town.
“What people are looking for is an experience,” he said. “An Americana experience.”
He said visitors loved the small town feel of Berlin and the fact that everyone in town seemed to know and respect one another.
“Tolerance,” he said. “People here are treated with respect and dignity. That’s been the one constant.”
Burrell said that because Berlin did have such a vibrant downtown, whatever was built at the Tyson property should complement it.
“We don’t want this, whatever it’s going to be, to be in competition with downtown but a supplement,” he said.
Town officials will participate in a second work session with EDSA Friday. The company’s study is expected to take six weeks to complete.