Approved Complex Redevelopment Bid Exceeds Budget By $500K

OCEAN CITY — After two attempts at bidding the construction contract for the redevelopment of the downtown recreation complex, resort officials approved the successful low bidder although the bottom line is still above what was budgeted.

In recent years, town officials have been planning for a major redevelopment of the downtown recreation and parks complex along the bayside between 3rd and 4th Streets. The large open swath of open space in an otherwise densely developed downtown area has served many purposes over the years but is showing its age 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. A consultant was hired to redesign certain elements of the park and add new amenities. Those plans have been reviewed and tweaked at different levels during the process, but the town was ready to pull the trigger with funding included in a bond sale for the first phase of the project.

During a work session in July, the submitted contractor bids for the first phase of the project were opened with disappointing results. Just two bids were submitted for the budgeted $2.2 million project and each were higher than expected. For example, one of the bids came in at around $3.8 million, while the second came in at nearly $5 million, or more than twice what was budgeted.

To that end, City Engineer Terry McGean suggested adjusting the timeline for the downtown recreation complex redevelopment, putting the project on pause and rebidding its first phase. Last month, four new bids were opened with similar results, although at least one was fairly close to the $2.2 million budgeted. Two of the bids were similar at around $3.9 million, while one was much higher at $4.7 million. The lowest among the four bids for the project opened on Tuesday came in at around $2.7 million, which was at least near the $2.2 million budgeted for the first phase of the downtown recreation complex redevelopment project. The council voted unanimously to remand the opened bids to staff for review and a recommendation.

On Tuesday, McGean after a staff review recommended an award to the lowest bidder, David A. Bramble, Inc., which came in at around $2.7 million for the first phase of the project. The town had already budgeted $2.2 million for the first phase of the project funded through the most recent bond sale. The difference between the budgeted amount and the lowest bidder is around $500,000, which will likely be made up through grant funds. McGean said staff went through the submitted bids line by line to determine the best option.

“There was a considerable spread between the lowest bidder and the next lowest bidder,” he said. “We looked at the low bids for each line item. The higher bids on certain line items were only different by around $250,000.”

McGean said in the end, Bramble’s low bid represented the best option for the town. He said the town has a successful history in working with the contractor on other projects.

“They came at it with a fresh approach,” he said. “They did not participate in the first bidding process. They feel very comfortable with their number, and we feel very comfortable with the company.”

Again, the successful low bid came in higher than what was planned for and budgeted, but it was much closer than the bids submitted in the first attempt. McGean said he was confident grant funding for the project would make up the difference.

“The question is where is the other half a million going to come from,” he said. “The grants we should receive should make up for nearly all of it. We expect the other components of this project to come in high as well based on the current trends.”

The park redevelopment will eventually be done in phases, with the first phase covering the infrastructure for both the east and west sections. Included in the first phase will be paths, utilities, stormwater management, landscaping, lighting, the relocation of the basketball courts, the expansion of the Ocean Bowl skate park and the construction of a new skate park office and restroom.

The second phase includes a new playground in the northwest corner of section of the complex on the west side of St. Louis Avenue. The third phase includes new tennis and pickleball courts and new restrooms on the western portion of the complex. The fourth and final phase includes another playground on the western portion of the complex, along with exercise equipment.

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 that 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.

A key element in the overall park complex redevelopment is the expansion of the decades-old Ocean Bowl skate park. Again, the plan calls for an upgrade of the existing facility along with the addition of popular street-skate elements. The expansion will take the skate park from its existing 10,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.

The initial plans called for the construction of public restrooms in the westernmost section of the park complex. However, McGean explained on Tuesday as a cost-saving measure, the new plan included eliminating the public restrooms in the west section and expanding the existing restrooms in the redeveloped skate park facilities.

“We’re looking at eliminating the planned restrooms on the west part,” he said. “All of the public restrooms in the park complex would be located at the skate park, with bathrooms on the first floor and the skate park offices on the second floor. We’re confident we’ll be able to accomplish that through grants.”

McGean was asked about the adjusted timetable for the overall park redevelopment project. He said if funding is available, it could become an expedited timetable.

“If we’re able to keep it going, we’d like to begin in March,” he said. “That would put at an estimated completion date by the start of the season in 2024. We’re going to start with the west portion and move our way east.”

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.