Editor’s Note: Ocean City’s growth in the modern era is marked by changes in its approach to tourism, real estate development, the regional economy and its various booms and busts.
In many of these instances, Ocean City adapted itself to respond to market circumstances, a growing residential population, and the problems that success often bring about.
Coming out of a pandemic-hobbled summer, resort businesses and government want to bring back the kind of family crowds Ocean City has traditionally enjoyed. City Councilman Dennis Dare, who served a long tenure as city manager and city engineer here, believes he has some answers that will help restore the resort’s luster in the eyes of the quality clientele that businesses and residents desire.
He has written a 25-part white paper on the steps he believes local government and the community should take.
Ocean City Today is examining his proposals in the series of articles on Dare’s list of 25 Things Ocean City Needs to Do.
(Sept. 4, 2020) This week, Councilman Dennis Dare’s jigsaw puzzle looks more like a game of Monopoly, as he focuses on acquiring and ameliorating property to reinforce the downtown Ocean City area.
“When we talk about investing in public buildings,” Dare said. “By the town investing in these buildings and that infrastructure, it gives the private sector confidence and, hopefully, they will do likewise and invest in their properties.”
The city has invested in many buildings over the last several decades, including the relocation of public works and police facilities, renovations at City Hall and the fire department and much more.
The city also has invested heavily in its infrastructure by replacing two old water plants, two water tanks and undertaking extensive work on the Boardwalk.
One building that Dare expressed particular interest in, however, is the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, on the southern-most point of the Boardwalk.
The museum was once located on the Boardwalk at Caroline Street, but the city bought the building in the 1970s and relocated it.
While the building is owned, financed and maintained by the city, the museum society runs its day-to-day operations and creates and pays for exhibits.
Dare said the museum is integral in preserving the history of Ocean City, which is why the building needs to be renovated.
“The current building doesn’t have good handicap accessibility,” Dare said. “You cannot get upstairs to the exhibits except for a steep, narrow stairway. Anybody, not just wheelchair [bound people], that don’t have the strength in their legs, they can’t even see the upstairs. The restroom facilities [also] are not handicap accessible.”
In addition to making the space handicap accessible, and code compliant, Dare said the city needs to create office space for museum employees.
He also mentioned the museum’s acquisition of the old Bank of Ocean City downtown branch, which also would need to be renovated to fit the museum’s needs.
As for funding the renovations, this would require money from the museum’s revenue, Ocean City’s budget and grants — the latter of which could be tricky, as funding for such projects are extremely competitive, Dare said.
The next piece would be supporting the Ocean City Development Corporation’s (OCDC) efforts to purchase land bounded by Philadelphia Avenue, Somerset Street, Baltimore Avenue and Dorchester Street, or what he calls the “OCDC model block piece.”
The reason for those specific boundary lines, Dare said, is because the city had already owned half of the properties within that area.
The goal of the model block pursuit was to create something in addition to the Boardwalk that would draw people to the downtown area.
Dare said to finance this goal, the corporation receives a portion of parking revenue from the inlet parking lot, as well as $100,000 grants from the City Council and the Worcester County Commissioners.
The corporation has also created temporary permitted and public parking lots in the area, which also acts as a funding source.
Dare said the investment in the corporation has been well worth it, as the corporation’s programs, such as its façade improvement program, have doubled the appraisal values of properties downtown. That translates into increases in the resort’s tax base.
The corporation’s façade program offers grant money to downtown property and business owners to help them renovate a building’s exterior, including siding, porches and stairway repairs.
“Both the city and the county have seen their real estate taxes (revenue) increase greatly over that 20 years, and a lot of that can be attributed to the OCDC,” Dare said.
However, perhaps most important to Dare is the creation of an attraction.
One idea that had been considered early on was an aquarium specializing in marine conservation efforts.
Dare said the idea had some basis, as the National Aquarium in Baltimore previously conducted a study to see whether it would be viable to create branch in downtown Ocean City.
“They found out that a downtown aquarium, instead of being a feeder to their program, it may distract from their attendance,” he said. “If a family [from Pittsburgh] is vacationing in Ocean City, and they went to the aquarium [here], maybe they [won’t] stop by Baltimore and go to the National Aquarium.”
Dare clarified that this had been an idea at one point, and he did not know whether the downtown corporation had any plans of pursuing such a project.
Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin said the aquarium idea had been axed many years ago because it had not been financially viable.
Irwin said the corporation is working on a feasibility study, but did not have a concrete idea in place.
Nevertheless, such an addition, aquarium or not, would aid the city as an added amenity, and would play an important role in another theme to be explored in next week’s piece: the “walkability” of downtown Ocean City.
Next week: the replacement of the Route 50 Bridge, sea level rise, bayside boardwalk, Somerset Plaza, Sunset Pier and the walkability of downtown Ocean City.