Redesigned Skate Park Eyed In OC

OCEAN CITY — While a major renovation of the downtown recreation complex continues to be a discussion point, town officials this week got a look at a dynamic concept plan for a rejuvenated skate park that could be the centerpiece of the finished product.

During a Recreation and Parks Committee meeting this week, a discussion on the future redesign of the downtown park complex was renewed with a focus on the redevelopment of the historic Ocean Bowl skate park on the site. The decades-old park complex is scheduled for a major redevelopment although it is uncertain where the project falls on the city’s priority list.

Strategic planning sessions continued this week with several major projects discussed including the downtown recreation complex at 3rd Street.

The park currently includes tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds and old baseball and softball fields that are rarely used for that purpose along with the famed Ocean Bowl skate park. A redevelopment and possible expansion of the skate park figures to be the centerpiece of the overall renovation project for the downtown park.

On Tuesday, the Recreation and Parks Committee reviewed a concept plan for the renovation and expansion of the skate park pitched by longtime Ocean City skaters and surfers Brad Hoffman and Joe “Salty” Selthoffer. Both have been longtime advocates for the local skating and surfing scene and came in on Tuesday with a comprehensive, detailed conceptual plan for the renovation of the Ocean Bowl skate park, which was built in the 1970s as the first municipal skate park in the country.

“There are older skate parks, but this is the oldest municipal skate park in the world,” said Hoffman. “It’s pretty amazing. It’s a haven for kids. Kids can get dropped off and their parents can go do other things because it’s safe and it’s monitored.”

Hoffman said many of the elements of the conceptual plan pitched on Tuesday were borne out of a public workshop at City Hall when skaters and their parents, local business owners and other stakeholders were asked what they wanted to see out of the renovation of the downtown recreation complex.

“At that City Hall meeting, we listened to the public,” he said. “What we heard is it needs to be monitored and it needs to be upgraded. We heard they don’t mind paying for it if it is worth paying for. There was strong sentiment for keeping the Dew Tour bowl.”

The Dew Tour, the wildly popular multi-sport event that included skating, BMX riding and even surfing, was held in Ocean City for four years from 2011 to 2014, but the run ended amicably a few years ago when the roaming event moved to other areas. Little evidence of the event’s run in the resort remains, but sitting in an Ocean City maintenance yard in West Ocean City is the iconic Dew Tour bowl.

For months, there have been discussions about what to do with the bowl including offering it to the town of Berlin, which is mulling its own skate park complex. However, Hoffman said the Dew Tour bowl could best be utilized as the centerpiece of the redesigned skate park in downtown Ocean City.

“We will definitely have something special,” he said. “People will come from all over the country. Some of the biggest skating pros in the world skated on that bowl.”

Hoffman said the conceptual plan presented on Tuesday calls for retaining and upgrading the existing elements in the skate park while adding new features to keep up with the changing trends in the sport. For example, the plan includes a “snake run,” or a low-impact, easy element for skaters of all ages and skill levels. The plan also calls for adding some street elements with railings and steps, for example, which are increasingly popular with young skaters.

“We also heard we need to give the kids an area with some street elements because the existing park doesn’t have any of that,” he said. “That’s the next evolution of skating. That’s why kids are skating and jumping off condo steps or jumping off the edge of the Boardwalk. It is illegal to skateboard in Ocean City. You have to give them a strong, viable park with all of these elements.”

The current Ocean Bowl skate park is owned and operated by the city and is manned and monitored by recreation and parks staff. It is a paid facility with seasonal passes and daily passes for local residents and visitors. Hoffman said the skate park operates at a loss each year with the payroll and maintenance expenses exceeding revenue derived from passes and various camps and other events throughout the year.

The skate park takes in around $50,000 a year, but the operating costs are around $75,000, resulting in a net annual loss of around $25,000. However, Hoffman said a renovated skate park with the Dew Tour bowl as its focal point could easily reverse that trend.

“We can take the park from revenue negative to revenue positive,” he said. “Salisbury and Ocean Pines are building skate parks, but they can’t hold a candle to Ocean City because this is where it all began. This is on the map and it has been for decades. I have a passion for it. I’m ready to use my contacts and my resources to get this done. As you move forward with your comprehensive plan for the park, I’m the right guy for this. I want the town to have the shining star it once was and I want the Dew Tour bowl to be a part of that.”

For his part, Selthoffer strongly endorsed the conceptual plans for the skate park redevelopment presented on Tuesday, but as a businessman, he also understood the dollars and cents part of the equation. The overall redevelopment of the downtown park complex is penciled in for funding at $3.5 million in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) beginning in 2020, with $800,000 penciled in for the renovation of the skate park beginning in 2019.

“As a promoter, my concern is always return on investment,” he said. “If we spend the money, how will the town recoup that?”

Selthoffer said the return on the city’s investment in the downtown recreation complex in general, and the skate park specifically, could begin and end with utilizing the old Dew Tour bowl. He used an analogy to illustrate his point.

“I’m a golfer, so I like to compare it to golf,” he said. “Owning that Dew Tour bowl and not utilizing it is like owning Augusta National Golf Course and not setting it up. It would be like not using Augusta and letting it go dormant.”

Selthoffer said he envisioned the Ocean Bowl skate park attracting skaters from all over the country and beyond. He envisioned using his contacts, along with Hoffman’s contacts, to bring in major professional skaters such as Tony Hawk and local favorite Bucky Lasek, for example, to host camps, exhibitions and contests.

“We will have Dew Tour-style events here every year,” he said. “Every skateboarder in every city and state and all over the country will want to come here and skate. By setting this up, your return on investment will come back 100-fold.”

Hoffman said he realizes the city has tough choices to make with several major, and expensive, capital projects in various stages of the planning pipeline, but urged the Recreation and Parks committee to endorse the renovation of the downtown complex with the skate park as its centerpiece.

“If this is built, we’re going to make something major happen,” he said. “It really means a lot to me and the next chapter needs to happen. It’s already legendary. It is on the map, but time has passed it by. We were ahead of the curve for a long time and we want to get back there again.”

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.