OC Skate Park Future Discussed; Expansion Talks ‘Just Conceptual Right Now’

OC Skate Park Future Discussed; Expansion Talks ‘Just Conceptual Right Now’
OC Skate

OCEAN CITY — The next potential evolution of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park was debated this week with some pushing for an enhanced and expanded facility and others urging a less is more approach.

The Ocean City Recreation and Parks Committee this week began tentative discussions about future improvements to the Ocean Bowl Skate Park on the bayside at 3rd Street. The Ocean City skate park opened in the mid-1970s and was quite innovative at the time. It has evolved over the years with additions and improvements. With the popularity of skating peaking around the country and in the resort, officials are considering a future expansion and renovation.

Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department Director Susan Petito pitched the idea to the committee during its monthly meeting on Tuesday. Petito said she envisioned retaining much of the original skate bowl, while adding enhanced features for skaters with higher skill levels in the hopes of increasing interest in the original park.

“We’re envisioning a park within the park, with better elements and higher skill levels that people would pay to use in the summer,” she said. “In the offseason, locals could use it for free. It’s just conceptual right now.”

While few would disagree the skate park is a unique amenity in the downtown area, some voiced concern about investing more money in the facility. Councilman Wayne Hartman said the skate park serves a purpose, but resisted pouring more money into an amenity with such a small target audience.

“My concern is the skate park requires such a level of skill that it serves just a small percent of the population,” he said. “I’d like to see something where it’s open all the time and maybe not staffed and let them congregate there. We’d make sure it was well lit and safe.”

Petito said the plan was merely conceptual and she was open to expanding it or maintaining the status quo, but disagreed with Hartman on the staffing issue.

“I don’t know that I would ever recommend that we don’t have that skate park manned,” she said.

Petito said the skate park has become a fixture on the downtown landscape and had spawned more than a few skaters that have gone on enjoy successful professional careers.

“We have some who are exceptionally proud of our home-grown skaters, some of whom grew up here and are now professionals,” she said. “I think we should nurture that and expand on that with higher-skilled elements.”

When the Ocean City skate park opened, it was considered state-of-the-art at the time and somewhat groundbreaking for the sport, the popularity of which was really just starting to reach the east coast. As the sport has grown in the decades since, public skate parks have popped up all over the landscape and continue to do so. Petito suggested Ocean City is merely looking to keep up with the times.

“We used to be ahead of the trend,” she said. “We had the first and the grandest, but everybody is building skate parks now and we’re not the grandest anymore.”

It’s no secret the Ocean Bowl Skate Park operates in the red. Although it’s not exactly bleeding red ink, the cost of staffing it and maintaining it does not offset the modest revenue it takes in. While expanding it with pay-for-use higher-skilled elements could increase its revenue, it likely wouldn’t move it into the black.

“It’s never going to be revenue-neutral,” she said. “I think of it as an amenity.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the skate park was an amenity enjoyed by many at little cost to the city, and used the analogy of countless visitors who use the beach without paying for it directly.

“Just like 10 miles of sandy beach isn’t paid for,” he said.

Hartman countered the free beach is used by an overwhelming majority of the residents and visitors while the skate park had a much smaller target audience.

“I agree, but 300,000 visitors use the beach every day,” he said. “Those using the skate park are such a small part of the population.”

Dare pointed to some of the playing fields just outside the Northside Park office where the meeting was taking place to illustrate how the use of amenities ebbs and flows.

“Look at these ball fields right here,” he said. “It used to cost $100,000 just to light them back in the day. Little League interest waned and girls’ softball interest waned to the point we didn’t have them for a while.”

Petito agreed and pointed to the changing trends with some of the other amenities.

“There was a time when we had to staff our outdoor basketball courts because they were so popular,” she said. “Things change and everything is cyclical and right now skateboarding is the hot trend.”

Hartman continued to voice concern about further investments.
“It requires so much to serve so little,” he said. “So few are served at the greatest expense, or we could serve the majority with less expense. Ocean City doesn’t have to be the best at everything.”

Petito said the proposed enhancements were merely conceptual and the committee could revisit them at a later date.

“We’re just asking for a conceptual design that is more palatable for more people, something that appeals to skaters of all levels,” she said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.