Committee Wants To Advance Downtown Park Effort

OCEAN CITY — The future of the downtown recreation complex was debated anew this week as resort officials agreed it was time to start moving on the redevelopment of the vast park between 3rd and 4th streets.

During a committee meeting on Tuesday, Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito outlined some of the progress on the proposed redevelopment of the downtown recreation complex.

The decades-old park complex near the bayside between 3rd and 4th streets 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 a playground 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.

For the last year, the committee has been working with a conceptual plan largely gleaned from a proposed design prepared by Special Events Director Frank Miller. 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 and the next step was to send out a request for proposal (RFP) to contract a park designer to take the conceptual plan and start formulating a real working plan.

“Once someone is selected, they would work with the town on what we want at that facility,” she said. “If we decide to move forward, what sort of input would the committee like to have in the process and how do we coordinate it with the full council?”

Councilman and committee chair John Gehrig said the time was right to move forward with the RFP and start formulating a real redevelopment plan for the downtown recreation complex.

“We have to do something,” he said. “We need to determine what components we want in that park. The design firm’s task will be seeing if that can be incorporated. At some point, we have to get something moving with the beginnings of a plan.”

Petito said once a design starts to come together and the various elements are decided, they could be tackled piecemeal with a combination of state grants and local matches in some cases.

For example, the state Community Parks and Playgrounds program provides grants for playgrounds at 100%. Other state grants for parks provide 50% of funding and require a 50% local match, but those are typically for much larger, more expensive projects.

“If we get a tentative design before the grant application window, we can take this in little snippets,” she said. “We can apply for grants piece by piece and not tackle all of it at once. At least we can get something going.”

Petito said whatever path is chosen, the town would need to provide some guidance for the future design consultant.

“We’re going to have to put our heads together sooner rather than later,” she said. “We need to give the designer some guidance for what we’re looking for in that park.”

Part of the overall plan includes some renovation of the skate park on the site. When the Dew Tour left after a three-year run in Ocean City ending in 2014, the town acquired the event’s iconic skate bowl and it remains in pieces at a maintenance yard in West Ocean City. Councilman and committee member Mark Paddack suggested that asset be included somehow in the redesign of the downtown park.

“We’re still sitting on that Dew Tour skate bowl, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “I think we need to look at a way to incorporate that somehow. It would need to be refurbished, but it’s a great asset.”

Other issues to resolve include how many basketball courts and where, should increasingly popular pickleball courts be included or replacing the tennis courts that were removed nearby when the new public works complex was developed at 3rd Street. Petito said some of those issues were sensitive.

“The increased popularity of pickleball has some of our tennis players upset,” she said. “Pickleball is using up most of the time at the tennis courts. Dual use facilities are always very challenging.”

Gehrig said the next step would be sending out the RFP for the design work. In the meantime, he suggested getting being progressive and organized so the town’s needs and desires are formulated when the designer is brought in to get to work.

“I think we need to create a checklist of some kind,” he said. “We can check off the boxes for the things we want or like and reach some consensus.”

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.