Council Supports Downtown Park Redevelopment Concept

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week signed off on conceptual plans to redevelop the downtown recreation complex, which will likely be done in phases over multiple years, although there could be tweaks in the final version.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito and consultant Tom McGilloway of Mahan Rykeil Associates presented to the Mayor and Council the conceptual plan for the redevelopment of the vast downtown recreation complex between 3rd and 4th streets along the bayside. The downtown park is bisected by St. Louis Avenue. The existing section to the east is already fairly developed with the Ocean Bowl skate park, basketball courts, a playground and other amenities.

The section to the west is largely open space with long-abandoned ballfields and a waterfront bulk-headed area popular for recreational fishing. The park area to the west has been utilized for special events in the past, including visits from touring tall ships. Most recently, the open field was used for satellite viewing of the White Marlin Open last August.

The large swath of open space in the otherwise densely developed downtown area has been utilized for many purposes over the years, but it is showing its age in recent years and is generally unpleasing and unwelcoming aesthetically. To that end, the Recreation and Parks Department two years ago initiated a process to begin redeveloping the complex.

With assistance from the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), a consultant was hired to develop concept plans for the project with input from the Mayor and Council and the public. On Tuesday, the final version was presented to the Mayor and Council for review and possible revisions.

“We worked this up at the committee level and thought it was time to bring it before the Mayor and Council and the public,” said Councilman John Gehrig, chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee. “If we hit a home run, we can start moving forward with it. This is just a recommendation. It doesn’t mean it can’t be revised along the way.”

Councilman Mark Paddack, who also serves on the committee, said the redevelopment design was a long time coming.

“It’s been a long process,” he said. “It’s time to get moving forward with something. The residents and visitors downtown have been waiting for something down here.”

For the east section, the plan includes an expanded skate park, relocating the existing basketball courts the area of the park closest to Philadelphia Avenue and an improved inclusive playground area. The east section would be connected to the west section via the raised pedestrian walkway across St. Louis Avenue. There was some early discussion about closing that portion of St. Louis Avenue, but the idea got little traction.

The section to the west would be less developed and more passive. It includes a vast flexible lawn in the center surrounded by trees for pick-up sports and other events, a playground area, a spot for a pavilion or future temporary band stage for future special events and new restrooms for the entire complex. The recreational fishing areas along the bulkhead would also be retained.

The entire project is expected to cost around $3 million and would be done in phases as funding allows. There are considerable grants and other funding sources available, which could help offset the town’s expense and expedite some phases of the project.

The proposed first phase would include much of the area to the west, which later phases would include the section to the east, including moving the basketball courts and expanding the skate park. The third and final phase would be the construction of the new restrooms, according to the plans presented.

The Mayor and Council ultimately approved the concept plans in the interest of moving the project forward, although they did raise some concerns with certain elements of the project. For example, there was considerable discussion about whether moving the basketball courts was the right course. However, the consultant said moving the courts would facilitate easy pedestrian access through the entire complex.

There were also concerns raised about the bayfront location of the restrooms. Some said the location could impact the pristine views of the bay, while others said the restrooms should be more centrally located in the complex. By and large, however, the elected officials endorsed the concept of redeveloping the property and agreed to move forward with it.

The consultant said he could go back and tweak the plans somewhat to address the Mayor and Council’s concerns. McGilloway said the project was planned in phases for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was funding for the project.

“It might be a year or so, and probably over a couple of years,” he said. “There are grants to consider and the permitting process to consider. It will have to be done in phases.”

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.