Committee Discusses Project Timelines For Park Redesign

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Recreation and Parks Committee this month reviewed the ongoing plans for the renovation of the downtown park complex after getting feedback from the Mayor and Council last month.

For much of the last year, the recreation and parks committee has been working with a consultant on a plan to renovate the vast two city-block recreation complex between 3rd and 4th Streets. 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 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.

Last month, the Mayor and Council reviewed the consultant’s conceptual plans for redeveloping the park complex, and while generally pleased with the design, the elected officials offered a few tweaks including moving the proposed location of the restrooms and keeping the basketball courts in their current location.

One of the first major issues to resolve is the order in which each phase of the project is undertaken and accomplished. 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.

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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.

When the recreation and parks committee reviewed the project again last week, one of the issues they decided needed to be resolved is the order in which the various phases are undertaken.

“We may have to pick the order of the projects,” said Councilman and committee chair John Gehrig. “Obviously, funding is going to dictate that. The playground needs to be done sooner rather then later and the basketball courts are crumbling.”

Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito said she understood the challenges facing the funding of the overall project, but given her druthers, she would like to see the park renovation accomplished all at once.

“I’d really like to see us bond the whole thing,” she said. “In a perfect world, we could do it all at once and we wouldn’t have to prioritize the various aspects of it.”

The proposal for the east section includes a renovation and expansion of the skate park. The section is currently slated for phase two, but Petito said she would like to see that moved up.

“We are offering the skate park as an amenity,” she said. “That’s why I advocated for doing that west area first. I can appreciate the need to consider the active parts of the skate park. We will be ready to move either way. We’ve promised an improved skate park for a long time.”

Another issue to resolve is the proposed location of the restrooms for the recreation complex. The initial concept plan had the restrooms sited on the west portion of the park complex, but concerns were raised about that location blocking the pristine views of the bay and waterfront area.

Petito said the consultant has since offered an alternative location for the restrooms away from the waterfront and closer to the center of the complex.

“There’s a little rectangle added in the southeast corner for the restrooms,” she said. “It’s just one alternative. I like the location because it fits in there. We didn’t want a site that would interfere with the flow of the park.”

One problem with the proposed location is the new restrooms would be situated close to the existing public restrooms at the skate park. However, the building at the skate park could come down eventually, creating a need for public restrooms closer to the center of the park. Councilman and committee member Mark Paddack said whatever location was chosen, there needed to be plenty of facilities.

“I know the mayor brought up his opinion about the restrooms and Chicago Avenue,” he said. “We need plenty of bathrooms down there. That west block will be used by the White Marlin Open and other special events.”

At Tuesday’s Mayor and Council work session, the capital improvement plan (CIP) was discussed again after the elected officials assigned rankings to the many projects on the list large and small. Two weeks ago, City Engineer Terry McGean presented the draft CIP and the Mayor and Council were tasked with assigning their rankings to the many projects.

The rankings were based on a scale of one to five and each of the elected officials’ rankings were then averaged to determine where a project landed on the CIP’s pecking order. The redevelopment of the downtown recreation complex received a composite score of 2.38, which landed the project on the “very important project” list.

By comparison, six projects on the CIP received higher scores and landed on the “critical projects list” in the CIP. For example, redeveloping the Baltimore Avenue corridor, including undergrounding the utilities and widening the sidewalks, earned a perfect average score of 1.0 and tops the critical project list in the CIP. While there was little discussion about the downtown recreation complex’s position on the list specifically among the elected officials, the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) weighed in on the importance of the project in the CIP.

“OCDC funded the downtown recreation complex master plan study with the hope that this project would come to fruition in the near future,” the organization’s written comments read. “This public park at 3rd Street has the potential to serve a wide variety of age groups. Through the master plan process as well as discussion at the City Council level, a consensus seems to be forming to move this project forward. Ocean City residents and tourists are ready for these recreational improvements.”

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.