OCEAN CITY — It was learned this week a seldom-used, city-owned parking lot could be the lynchpin for a major redevelopment project in the very south end of the resort.
For decades, there have been attempts to redevelop the old Holt’s Landing property at the base of the town at South Philadelphia Avenue to no avail. Numerous meetings have bene held with hopes discussed, but the development of the vacant property has yet to occur. Recently, a development group behind other notable projects in the resort has begun moving forward with a potential resort hotel complex on the site, but has run into challenges with meeting the required amount of parking for the odd-shaped parcel.
Sarantis Properties is well into the planning and design of a new luxury 90-room hotel on the site with a full-range of upscale amenities. The property offers some of the best panoramic views in Ocean City near the Inlet. Adding intrigue to the discussion, the Harrison Group is also considering redeveloping the old Oceanic Motel nearby, according to city planning officias.
Architect Keith Iott, representing the Sarantis family, on Tuesday pitched to the Mayor and Council the concept of leasing or buying the old Whiteside Property on nearby South Philadelphia Avenue from the town in order to make its project work. For years, the Whiteside property was used by the town as a staging area for the Boardwalk trams and other public works department functions.
When the town built the new public works facility at 2nd Street and St. Louis Avenue, the Whiteside property became obsolete. The structures on the site have been demolished and it is now largely a gravel overflow parking lot in the downtown area. The town has held onto the property for future use in the redevelopment of that area and it now appears that opportunity is presenting itself.
“We want to lease or buy the Whiteside parking lot jointly with the Harrison family,” said Iott. “We need approximately 34 parking spaces with the old Holt’s Landing property. If the Harrison’s had access to those parking spaces, it might change how they redevelop the Oceanic Motel site.”
Iott explained Christos Sarantis and Sarantis Properties have made other significant investments in Ocean City.
“They are already invested in the Town of Ocean City,” he said. “I first met Christos when they redeveloped the Coldwell Banker property at Old Landing Road. It’s been a welcome addition to the town. They also purchased the old Phillips site at 141st Street and they are developing a nice, mixed-use project. They are vested in the town.”
Iott said he has worked on and off on redeveloping the Holt’s Landing property for nearly two decades and the proposed Sarantis project represents a real opportunity to move forward.
“I worked on this property for 18 years and it really is a chance of a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “They want to develop this as a flagship hotel. The challenges are extreme because the property is boarded by three city streets and the only access is Philadelphia Avenue. They really need those 34 spaces at Whiteside.”
Iott vowed the proposed Sarantis project could be the lynchpin for the redevelopment of the entire south end of town.
“This will be a worthy, worthy addition to the Town of Ocean City,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to redevelop this part of Ocean City.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca pointed out there is usually a staff recommendation included in a request such as the one presented on Tuesday. When asked what his recommendation was, City Manager Doug Miller said he did not recommend a lease, but rather recommended a sale of the property, if that was the direction the council wanted to take.
When asked about the timeline for the overall project, Iott said the goal was to get going by the second or third quarter of 2022. There would obviously be layers of approval to work through before ground could be broken.
“The family would be amenable to working with the town planners,” he said. “They would be all for that. A lease would be the most straightforward approach. If there was a street realignment or something of that nature in the future, a lease would allow the flexibility to do that.”
Councilman Mark Paddack said the entire proposal would be complicated.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “The Harrisons are involved, the OCDC (Ocean City Development Corporation) has concerns, you have the Windsor Group in the same area redeveloping some of Trimper’s. I think there is a lot of potential to redevelop this entire end of town. I think the project is a good fit.”
Iott agreed there were a lot of moving parts, but said the Sarantis family was taking the lead at this point with its hotel project.
“We want to participate in any effort to redevelop this end of town,” he said. “The Sarantis family is just willing to be first.”
Some members of the council questioned why they were getting such an early look at the proposal when it hadn’t been vetted by staff for recommendations yet.
“I asked for this to be placed on the agenda,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “It has been sitting for 30 days. Sometimes, the only way to move things forward is to request that it be put on an agenda. We have two developers hoping to redevelop this area in a way we all desire.”
City Solicitor Heather Stansbury suggested referring the Whiteside lot request back to staff for review before making any motions. DeLuca then made a motion to refer the issue back to staff for review with a planned quick turnaround.
“It makes sense to lease it,” he said. “These things take forever. We can lease it, and then meet with the various groups to move forward with these projects. There is some sense of urgency.”
DeLuca made a motion to refer the request back to the staff level for review with a sense of urgency and have staff come back with some recommendations as soon as the next Mayor and Council work session, a motion seconded by Councilman Peter Buas. The council approved the motion with a 6-0 vote with Councilman John Gehrig absent.