OCEAN CITY — A conceptual plan for improvements to a large section of the downtown recreation complex were reviewed this week, but there is no rush to move forward with it until plans are finalized.
During Tuesday’s Recreation and Parks Committee meeting, Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito presented a conceptual plan for the west side of the downtown recreation complex between 3rd and 4th streets. The decades-old park complex is scheduled for a major renovation as the recreation and parks department works through its updated master plan for the entire network of public parks throughout the resort.
The downtown park complex is bisected by St. Louis Avenue and the section to the east is fairly developed with the Ocean Bowl skate park, basketball courts, tennis courts and now, the Wrecktangle obstacle course among other amenities. The section of the park to the west of St. Louis Avenue is largely open space with long-abandoned ballfields and a waterfront, bulk-headed area popular for fishing.
It was the section to the west for which conceptual plans were presented on Tuesday. The conceptual plan retains much of the open space in the center of the park, but includes an all-inclusive, ADA-accessible playground, an open-air pavilion, interactive walking trails and other amenities. Petito stressed the plan was merely conceptual at this point.
“It’s just a concept plan, but we’d like to start moving forward with it,” she said. “It’s a snapshot of what the west block of the downtown recreation complex could become. It includes a lot of green open space, an interactive playground and walkways throughout.”
Committee members generally liked the concept plan, but had some questions, particularly with the pavilion, which, they believe, could become a haven for illicit activity after dark. Council President Lloyd Martin pointed out the old baseball and softball dugouts in the park were removed for that reason.
“The pavilion is beautiful, and it would be a nice addition,” he said. “We took out the old baseball dugouts because we had problems down there. I would hate to get rid of one problem and create a new one.”
Councilman Mark Paddack agreed the proposed pavilion was attractive, but also voiced concern about it not always being used for its intended purpose.
“There are a lot of people around Chicago Avenue between 2nd and 4th streets that use this park,” he said. “It would be a nice amenity, but it would have to be patrolled. The old baseball dugouts were three-sided and they were hard to patrol without getting out. An open pavilion like this could be checked pretty easily with just a drive-by.”
Earlier in the meeting, committee members approved a grant application to the state for expanding the dog park at 94th Street, and there was some discussion about piggybacking the downtown recreation complex in the same grant application. However, Councilman John Gehrig said the conceptual plan presented on Tuesday was just that and it was too soon to begin submitting a project proposal without more discussion.
“It seems like the dog park is ready to go and it’s consistent with what we want to do, especially with the increase in demand for pet-friendly amenities,” he said. “We’ve talked about this downtown park, but if we apply for a grant and get approved, we might be locked into doing it before we really nail down a final plan.”
Petito said there were two paths to follow in terms of grants from the DNR. One is Program Open Space and the other is a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant. She said the town could move forward with the grant application for the dog park and apply for a second grant for the downtown recreation complex at a later date.
“We can go forward with the dog park grant this year,” she said. “Next August, we can submit a grant application for the downtown park after we decide what we want to do down there.”
Martin agreed the town should have a firm plan in place before submitting a grant application to the state for the downtown recreation complex.
“I think there needs to be more discussion on this,” he said. “We want to do it right and not halfway where we come back and say we wished we had done something differently.”
Paddack said that section of the downtown area was going through a renaissance of sorts and the conceptual plan presented on Tuesday could be part of that.
“This has a lot of potential,” he said. “There is a big new hotel coming on line down there, there are a lot of year-round residents in that area and there is a lot of commercial activity with de Lazy Lizard right there.”