Council, OCDC Reach Deal On New Beach Patrol Home; Downtown Recreation Complex Plans Shelved Again
OCEAN CITY – The long awaited Ocean City Beach Patrol’s new headquarters got the green light this week to be funded in an upcoming bond issuance with a little help from the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC).
Earlier this month, City Manager Terry McGean presented the Mayor and Council with a draft of the Town of Ocean City Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-2018.
McGean highlighted several proposed projects that are FY14 and FY15 scheduled bond funded projects that he wanted the Mayor and City Council to keep in mind during future discussions. A project that has been left on the drawing board for some time was the construction of a new headquarters for the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP).
The OCBP currently occupies three buildings on Dorchester Street that used to serve as the old home to the Ocean City Police Department and District Court facilities. In 1993, the buildings were deemed unsuitable.
On April 30, City Engineer Terry McGean presented the Mayor and Council with a report on the building that revealed significant issues, such as numerous ADA violations, nonfunctioning sprinkler systems, asbestos siding, cracks in exterior masonry walls and all buildings’ first floors are below base flood elevation.
At that time, the council approved $165,000 to go toward a design of a new facility to be reimbursed in a future bond issue and authorize the staff to begin the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to hire a design firm.
OCDC and city staff recommended for the new headquarters be located downtown on three parcels purchased by the OCDC between Talbot and Dorchester streets that currently stands as a gravel parking lot next to OCDC’s office.
This week McGean returned to continue discussion with the Mayor and Council over the draft CIP to add or delete projects, but most importantly decide if any other projects will be included in the upcoming bond sale for the Convention Center Auditorium previously approved for joint funding with the MSA. The target date for a bond sale to reimburse city funds spent on the auditorium is at the end of the year.
McGean submitted, although the council approved proceeding with the design of the headquarters and a RFP was prepared, due to concerns from the council regarding the proposed building location he indefinitely delayed receiving design proposals.
If the council were to wish to include the new OCBP facility at the proposed OCDC parking lot location in the upcoming bond issue, McGean suggested authorizing staff to immediately receive design proposals and hire an architect and to include headquarters in the bond sale at a maximum of $2 million.
McGean added he believes he can have an architect on board and a design prepared by the beginning of November in order to have a better cost estimate before going to the bond market.
A large representation of OCDCs constituency was present during the discussion as well as OCBP Captain Butch Arbin, to voice support for the project.
“As you are aware, the OCDC has advocated for a new OCBP building to be constructed in the downtown area,” OCDC President Bob Givarz said. “After a tour of the current facilities and recent newspaper coverage of the poor condition of these beach patrol buildings, we believe it’s time to move this first-rate city division into a new building. There have been many good reasons stated for keeping beach patrol headquarters in the downtown area.”
OCDC made a proposal to the council to help make the new facility occur in a cost efficient manner. It proposed a land swamp of OCDC parking lots in the Dorchester/Talbot streets block for the city-owned lots where the existing headquarters stands in the Dorchester/Somerset streets block. Once the existing facility is demolished, those lots will then become temporary parking lots instead.
The OCDC will pay 35 percent of the cost of the new OCBP building and site improvements over the 20-year bond life, not to exceed $2 million. These assisted funds would come from the Inlet Parking Lot fund, which is the dedicated funding source established a decade ago to fund downtown revitalization projects by OCDC.
The OCDC will manage this temporary parking lot on the Dorchester/Somerset streets block to provide additional public parking until a redevelopment project is underway. Revenue from this parking would be applied toward paying the transferred note on the properties.
The OCDC requested, if this proposal is accepted a new headquarters be included in the next city bond and the architectural design for this new facility be started as soon as possible.
“I couldn’t be happier because I haven’t bought any land and I was going to buy some today if you didn’t do this. This is wonderful and I appreciate it,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic thanked OCDC for the proposal.
“This is a generous offer on your part to move this project forward. In light of the conditions of the current beach patrol headquarters and the OCDC is willing to step up, I will make a motion to include the beach patrol headquarters in the next bond issuance,” he said, adding the council will have to closely examine the project’s needs and wants to lower the cost estimate.
The council voted unanimously to approve including a new headquarters in the upcoming bond sale.
Other highlights being considered to be included in the upcoming bond sale is the construction of a downtown recreation complex, skate park renovation and expansion, canal dredging and effluent disinfection of the wastewater treatment plant.
After going back and conducting research to address council concerns over a downtown recreation complex and a park lease with Worcester County, McGean explained in December of 2009 the county presented a revised lease proposal to the city.
The revised proposal deleted some clauses Ocean City had found objectionable in the county’s original proposed lease and extended the lease term from 15 years to 25 years. Because the project had been delayed indefinitely by the time this revised lease was received, and the lease term was for only 25 years, the council voted not to accept the lease and to readdress the lease issue when and if the park improvement project moved forward. A copy of the lease signed by the county, but not the city, was in the official files which accounts for the confusion on the status of the lease.
“My suspicion with the downtown recreation complex is the county will try to tie this in with the tax differential once again … because of that this would not be a doable project … even though I would love to see a downtown recreation complex,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.
Mitrecic agreed he would also like to see the complex but without an agreement with the county where they would turn the land over to the city he could not see the project moving forward.
“It has been a long time coming and there is nothing that I would rather see done as a councilmember than that downtown project but I just don’t think it is a liable issue with the circumstances between us and the county,” he said.
The renovation and expansion of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park was not discussed as the proposed project is tied in with the downtown recreation complex that was eliminated from the plan at this time.
Councilman Dennis Dare objected to canal dredging being included in the bond sale.
“I am all for dredging the canals. However … I feel that if you are going to bond something for 20 years it ought to last 20 years … I am not so sure that Mother Nature is going to allow the canals to remain open for 20 years once we dredge them,” he said. “The waterfront property owners already pay a premium in their taxes to the Town of Ocean City, Worcester County and to the State of Maryland. The canals are open to the public just like the road ways, so I think it is something that we should pay as we go through our tax receipts.”
In the end, the council was in consensus to add the headquarters and effluent disinfection to the already approved bond projects of the Convention Center auditorium and a roof for the Public Safety Building and Service Center. Between all the projects, the current total estimate cost for all projects to go to the bond market is around $12.5 million.
The bond projects and their estimated costs will return to the Mayor and City Council for formal approved in first reading on Sept. 17 and the second reading on Oct. 7.