(March 29, 2019) Strategizing for potential revamping of the Downtown Recreation Complex on Third Street and the Dog Playground on 94th Street was the focus of discussions this week about updating the Parks Master Plan.
Director of Recreation and Parks Susan Petito said the recent announcement about the “Woodward WreckTangle,” a proprietary obstacle course tentatively slated for the northwest corner of Philadelphia Avenue and Third street, has revived talks over long-term design plans for the recreation amenity.
“It is an active … regional park for Ocean City and it’s also an event venue,” she said. “Potentially, with some modifications, we could do more events down there.”
During the Recreation and Parks Committee meeting on Monday, Petito said the downtown location presents challenges such as parking, lighting, available space and the potential for flooding because of tidal issues
“There’s so many wonderful things that people want to see, but we really just don’t have the space to do everything people would like to see in that park,” she said.
Since prior meetings about the Parks Master Plan were last held, Petito said a number of updates were performed, including: demolishing the Third Street tennis courts this January; removing dugouts on the former little league field; repairing and repainting basketball courts; replacing siding at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park; and installing a water fountain.
Petito said the Ocean City Council conducted a survey in 2017 surrounding park amenities to include in revitalization plans.
“At the time, there was interest and discussion about having an architect come in and do some design work on the park,” she said.
Petito said previous concerns about replacing the tennis courts on Third Street, which were required to stay in place sufficiently long enough to satisfy Maryland Project Open Space grant program mandates, have been subsequently satisfied.
“There is no requirement to replace tennis downtown, but I do believe there is a need [and] finding a location for that is still something that’s important,” she said.
Echoing previous recommendations, Petito proposed hiring an architect to produce schematics highlighting potential development scenarios.
“It’s a good idea to have some conceptual drawings about what we could do down at that park,” she said. “Even if we can’t do a complete renovation … maybe we can start to piecemeal some improvements at that park.”
Petito also noted there are grant opportunities available to replace playground equipment at the Third Street park.
“When we talked with … the council before we talked about the concept of doing … an all-inclusive playground which would provide a destination playground for people with handicaps or disabilities,” she said.
While supportive of the introduction of the WreckTangle amenity at the park, Petito said any future expansions should be located elsewhere, potentially in mid-town, due to concerns over losing “green space,” downtown.
“I’m not sure Third or Fourth Street is the perfect place,” she said. “You need parking downtown, you need recreation amenities [and] you need green space.”
City Manager Doug Miller noted the Whiteside property on South First Street, which formerly housed Boardwalk trams and has been considered for use as a parking lot, might provide an ideal location for future expansion of the WreckTangle concept.
“Hopefully, WreckTangle is just enormously successful and perhaps we put that down there,” he said. “It’s probably a better location for them close to more attractions.”
Councilman John Gehrig, who serves as Recreation and Parks committee chair, agreed the topic could be revisited after summer 2019 winds down.
“Let’s see how WreckTangle does this year and see what level of involvement they want to have moving forward,” he said.
Petito also reviewed plans to maximize square footage at the Dog Playground in Little Salisbury Park on 94th Street, noting the location is undersized for the application and presents maintenance challenges.
“Management practices are suited for residents but they’re not really practical for visitors,” she said.
Petito said the fee-based facility requires users to acquire passes prior to entrance.
“The reason we have it set up that way is because you need to show your dog has all its appropriate shots,” she said.
Technological challenges have also plagued the facility, most notably problems with gate locks, which have caused public relations nightmares, Petito said.
“Technology at the park has been at times unreliable,” she said.
Petito said the minimum recommended space for a dog park is three-quarters of an acre, or roughly 36,000 square feet.
“The absolute minimum size standards for any sort of even pocket dog park are half an acre, or 21,780 square feet,” she said. “We have 9,000 square feet of useable space.”
Due to sizing issues, the facility was deemed a “Dog Playground,” Petito said.
Despite being rejected for a Community Parks and Playground grant of $145,500 last year, Petito said the application was recently re-submitted.
“We were not told whether it’s being considered this time around,” she said. “There is a plan … to reshape the space so it will have more useable space within the park.”
If the grant request again fails to resonate, Petito suggested the city consider earmarking funds to reimagine the space.
“We have a resort community here [and] we don’t allow dogs on the beaches at certain times,” she said. “We don’t have enough open park land.”
Gehrig noted the ever-increasing propensity for tourists to travel accompanied by furry friends and suggested examining a policy revision to permit human-accompanied canines to inhabit the Boardwalk during morning hours when bikes are permitted.
“People are crazy about their pets,” he said.
Ocean City Council President Lloyd Martin, also a member of the Recreation and Parks Committee, said the reception was less than amicable after recently making a similar pitch to a downtown business merchant.
“I said that to somebody and [they] beat me up down on the Boardwalk,” he said.
Miller noted the proposal could provide a relief valve for Beach Patrol members.
“It is a constant problem for Beach Patrol when they do their morning run that people, especially at the north end, take their dogs off the leash,” he said. “If we were to say dogs are fine [on the Boardwalk] until 10 a.m. … it might solve a lot of problems.”