Town Pursues Gillis Gilkerson Proposal For Heron Park

Town Pursues Gillis Gilkerson Proposal For Heron Park
A rendering of Gillis Gilkerson's proposed development for the former poultry plant property as of last year. Submitted image.

BERLIN– Town officials are entering into extended negotiations regarding Heron Park with Gillis Gilkerson.

The Berlin Town Council voted 4-0 on Monday to enter into an extended negotiation period with Gillis Gilkerson as it relates to the sale of parcels at Heron Park.

“It’s not selling them but it allows us to be able to meet with them more and whittle down to the finer points of an agreement that would have to be approved publicly,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said.

After considering the sale of portions of Heron Park for some time, the town issued a formal request for proposals late last year and in February received offers from Gillis Gilkerson and Natelli Communities. The Gillis Gilkerson proposal offered the town $1.5 million for three parcels—parcel 410,57 and 191—and would involve partial demolition of the existing structures to create a commercial project. Natelli Communities proposed a primarily residential project and offered the town $1.6 million and five lots near Stephen Decatur Park.

After hearing from the public in February, the town ordered an updated appraisal of the Heron Park property. That appraisal, included in this week’s council packet, values the four parcels together at $2.9 million.  The value of parcel 52 is listed as $180,000. Parcel 57 is valued at $800,000 while parcel 191 is valued at $200,000 and parcel 410 is listed at $700,000.

Tyndall told the council Monday the appraisal was labeled a draft in case any clarifications were needed. No concerns with the document were voiced, however, and Tyndall suggested the town move forward into negotiations with Gillis Gilkerson.

“We ordered the appraisal to give us more information regarding the parcels before we decided to move into an extended negotiation period with a proposer,” Tyndall said. “I think that based off of our last meeting that we had … there was one particular entity that was more Berlin than the other and a better fit for the surrounding community. I believe that was the Gillis Gilkerson group.”

A motion by Councilman Jack Orris to move into extended negotiations with Gillis Gilkerson passed 4-0. Tyndall said the town would set up a subcommittee that would include two councilmembers to work through negotiations and make recommendations to the council as a whole.

After the meeting, Orris said he was grateful the town had high quality proposals from two different entities. He also thanked citizens for the input they’d provided.

“Entering into this extended negotiating period allows the opportunity for the town and Gillis Gilkerson to have more in-depth communication regarding their proposal for the Heron Park property, and I’m looking forward to those discussions and working with Gillis Gilkerson, the mayor and council and the community to turn the Heron Park situation into a positive,” Orris said.

Councilman Jay Knerr is also eager to move forward.

“The vast majority of the residents and the council members prefer the Gillis Gilkerson proposal,” Knerr said. “We have had the site appraisal done and now it’s time to sit down with Gillis and negotiate a price that would not only give the town an appropriate project for that site but also allow us to significantly reduce the debt service on that property.”

In an interview Wednesday, Palmer Gillis, founder of Gillis Gilkerson, said he was thrilled the company had been selected by the town.

“Our goals here are pretty high,” he said. “We want to make the property beautiful, an asset to the town.”

He said Gillis Gilkerson was committed to working with the town on a shared vision that could transform not just the property but that entire portion of Old Ocean City Boulevard. Gillis, who had initial plans for the project drawn up last summer, said Gillis Gilkerson can be flexible and is willing to consider various possibilities.

“We have a small, medium and large version of this,” he said.

Gillis said the medium plan was what the company had submitted in response to the town’s request for proposals. That includes a partial demolition of existing structures and shows multiuse commercial buildings.

That proposal includes setting aside two acres for an amphitheater and lists potential businesses as restaurants, a garden center, offices, parking, multiuse fields and a dog friendly park.

As for the large option, Gillis said if debt service was choking the town the company was willing to consider buying the entire park property, including the passive use portion.

“That public open space,” he said, referencing the area where the lagoons are, “that’s going to be conducive to our project.”

Gillis pointed out that repurposing old space was something Gillis Gilkerson had done successfully multiple times in the past, in places like Salisbury and Easton. As a local resident, he’s anxious to bring positive change to the long vacant property.

“We’re incredibly excited,” he said. “We have a vision for that property we think will rock and become a great asset for the community.”

Berlin officials have been exploring plans to sell at least a portion of Heron Park since early 2021.  The 63-acre property, a former chicken processing plant, was purchased by the town for $2.5 million in 2016.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.