Revised Downtown Project Reviewed By OC Officials

Revised Downtown Project Reviewed By OC Officials
Rendering of a proposed project on Somerset Street courtesy of OCDC

OCEAN CITY — Revised plans for a proposed mixed-use redevelopment project downtown at Somerset Street with a significantly higher price tag was one of the highlights of an initial review the town’s draft capital improvement plan last week.

Last spring, the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) pitched the concept for a pair of projects in the downtown area including a mixed-use facility at Somerset Street for the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and a future seasonal housing project on a portion of the model block. The OCDC is a quasi-public organization dedicated improving the downtown area and for years has been acquiring properties when they come available for future redevelopment.

The OCDC initially proposed a mixed-use facility on a parcel it owns on Somerset Street, which would include new storage and space for the OCPD’s bike patrol, public restrooms, an improved bus stop and at least 25 beds of seasonal housing for the OCPD. During last week’s presentation of the draft capital improvement plan (CIP), it was learned the revised plans call for just a single project at Somerset Street that would accomplish much of the anticipated benefits of the proposed two-project concept in a single facility with some alterations.

The initial overall cost estimate for the project was $2.4 million, which would include a $1.4 million contribution from the town and a $1 million contribution from the OCDC through its share of the Inlet parking lot revenue. For years, the OCDC has received a portion of the weekend Inlet lot revenue as a reserve fund of sorts for projects has or intends to develop in the downtown area. The OCDC’s contribution for the proposed Somerset Street project would come from a portion of that Inlet lot fund.

However, the combined and altered project is estimated at around $4.2 million for a variety of ongoing reasons including increased construction and materials costs and supply issues, for example, issues that have plagued several major projects in town in recent months and have led to higher estimates and ultimate costs for most.

OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin pitched the revised plans for the Somerset Street complex to the council on Jan. 31.

“We’ve made some changes to the plan over the last eight months I think to the better,” he said. “It would be a mixed-use facility with a new police substation. We have combined two projects essentially.”

The revised plans include a full police substation on the ground floor with access to the public. It would include a smaller police bicycle storage area than what was originally planned but would gain more space in the police substation. It would also include workforce housing on the third floor including 16 beds in four living spaces along with common areas.

The original plan called for 25 beds, but the reconfigured site plan drops that number to 16 to accommodate other amenities. A question was raised if the entire workforce housing area would be dedicated to police officers, seasonal officers and PSAs and it was determined that would be the first priority but if the department didn’t need all of the housing, it could be utilized by other town employees such as the beach patrol, for example.

The proposed revised plan would include a full Ocean City Police Department substation off the Boardwalk at Somerset Street and eliminate the need for the existing substation at Worcester Street. The plan includes reducing the size of the police department bicycle storage area somewhat, but includes more space for the substation in general with easier access for the public, according to Irwin.

“We’ve been working closely with the OCPD,” he said. “We think this plan accomplishes a lot. We would have a full police substation off the Boardwalk, which we think is important. It does reduce the number of beds to 16 but there are larger living spaces and common areas including a laundry. The cost is around $4.2 million but we can do $2 million from the Inlet lot revenue and there is around $250,000 in grant funding. We’re actually going to probably do more than 50%.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca pointed out the revised plans represented a departure from what the council had seen, and approved preliminary funding for, in the past.

“It seems like we’re going a little off the Richter here,” he said. “A lot of these details are very important. We didn’t know we were going to get into this today. Can we see some more details and floorplans? This is pretty important.”

The council diverted from the CIP discussion and went back to cover other items on the agenda when it appeared the CIP presentation was going to be longer. After taking care of some other business, the council returned to the CIP and more detailed floor plans for the proposed Somerset Street multi-use facility.

McGean said the proposed police substation in the Somerset Street multi-use facility would replace the existing substation on the Boardwalk. He said that facility was aging but still had some practical use as a staging facility for downtown and Inlet events such as the Oceans Calling music festival or town events such as Sunfest and Springfest, for example.

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.