Ocean City To Extend Downtown Pedestrian-Only Block

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) this week presented its annual update to the Mayor and Council and gained approval for a handful of its initiatives including an extension of the Somerset Street plaza.

The OCDC, a quasi-public organization charged with directing the continued revitalization of the historic downtown area, gave a detailed overview of its many successes over the last year despite the ongoing pandemic and presented a handful of action items to the Mayor and Council. Chief among the action items was a request to move forward with the proposed extension of the Somerset Street Plaza, which was among the projects included in the fiscal year 2022 capital improvement plan.

Currently, the plaza is pedestrian-only with some light businesses between the Boardwalk and Baltimore Avenue. The OCDC is seeking to extend that pedestrian-only plaza along Somerset Street between Baltimore Avenue and Philadelphia Avenue.

When the capital improvement plan (CIP) was presented last month, the OCDC requested funding for the Somerset Street Plaza in the fiscal year budget at around $250,000. During Tuesday’s presentation, OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin and current President Kevin Gibbs explained a creative funding mechanism had been discovered, resulting in some savings on the estimated cost of the project.

“The original estimate was $250,000, but [Public Works Director] Hal [Adkins] found some savings and we can do it for $180,000 if it’s included in the fiscal year 2022 plan,” said Irwin.

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Mayor Rick Meehan urged the council to take advantage of the savings and move the project further up on the CIP.

“I recommend the Somerset Street project,” he said. “That’s a great project and I hope the council supports it.”

The council did vote unanimously to move the Somerset Street extension project up in the CIP. The Somerset Street improvements between Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues are viewed by the OCDC as a natural extension of the Somerset Plaza streetscape that was completed in 2002.

“In addition to being adjacent to the model block, this is vital as a pedestrian link from the Boardwalk to the bayside,” said Irwin. “It also has the potential to attract commercial uses along this public right-of-way to become a special place in Ocean City.”

Among other things, the OCDC’s mission is to oversee several aspects of the ongoing revitalization of the resort’s downtown area. It obtains grants for various initiatives, most notably the highly successful façade program, and holds sway over many major redevelopment projects in the downtown area.

The OCDC also reviews site plans for private sector new development projects proposed downtown, helping to ensure they fit in with the larger goals in the various sections of the downtown area. The organization also oversees demolition and renovation projects and often secures grants and other funding sources to help finance the project.

The OCDC also conducts an extensive public art campaign, has been instrumental in the model block program, which went completed will revitalize and rejuvenate an entire block in the downtown area, and also sponsors various successful special events. In short, the OCDC is essentially the eyes and ears for the city on the revitalization of the downtown area.

Tuesday’s presentation included an outline of the many initiatives completed in the last year as well as a host of ongoing programs and projects expected to be completed in the coming year. Perhaps the signature initiative for the OCDC is the highly successful façade program. To date, 246 downtown buildings have been renovated through the program, representing over $7 million in private-sector investment.

There is also a green element to the OCDC’s efforts. The organization has been able to successfully implement several environmental initiatives with its many projects including Energy Star-rated doors, windows and “cool” roofs. To date, 83 environmentally-friendly projects have been completed with seven more already underway. The OCDC’s green initiatives have resulted in $1.2 million in private investment.

The OCDC is also involved in many projects that don’t involve development and redevelopment downtown. For example, the organization is the primary sponsor of a variety of special events including the popular Sunset Park Party Nights and the wildly successful Shore Craft Beer Fest among others. The OCDC is also piloting a program to better light up many of the alleys in downtown Ocean City with matching funds for private-sector participants.

The OCDC also sponsors various public art projects in the resort, including the successful utility box painting project. Another key initiative for the OCDC is assisting the private sector with projects that provide much-needed seasonal workforce housing.

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.