(May 3, 2013) The city appears to have finally scared itself into movement on a new headquarters building for the Ocean City Beach Patrol, as the City Council this week saw a presentation of the downtown building’s dire conditions and went on to approve funds for design work on a new site.
Those conditions, according to extensive photographic evidence from City Engineer Terry McGean, include structural collapse, peeling asbestos, and chronic water damage to offices and even restroom facilities that have all the ambiance of a Turkish prison.
“I don’t want to overplay it, but it’s an eyesore … that doesn’t have any architectural value at all in downtown Ocean City,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “It needs extensive repair and it’s not going to stop. It’s going to continue and get worse. At some point, we’re going to have to make this decision.”
The OCBP has been housed in its current complex, located on the corner of Dorchester Street and Philadelphia Avenue, since the buildings were abandoned by the Ocean City Police Department in 1993.
“It was deemed unsuitable by the police department back in 1993 when we built the public safety building at 65th Street,” McGean said. The OCPD still uses the lower level of the main building to store and repair the bicycles used by downtown patrol officers in the summer.
Continuing hard use on a building that is already two decades past the nominal end of its life has caused a number of issues.
“In their garage area, where they keep their four-wheelers and wave runners, the fire protection system is no longer working and it is a wooden building,” McGean said. “The upstairs storage also wasn’t designed for that and I have some structural concerns there as well.”
Further, the laminate finish on the building’s asbestos siding is starting to peel, exposing the hazardous fibers.
Renovation would be difficult, McGean said, since any extensive repair to the building would require it to be brought up to the FEMA flood code followed by the city. This would mandate the entire structure be raised, or have its lower levels flood-proofed.
Instead, McGean proposed, the city could build a new structure exactly one block north of the old one, on land currently owned by the Ocean City Development Corporation, the city-backed non-profit that supports urban redevelopment. The land is currently a gravel parking lot.
“We purchased it with the intent of putting a new development on it, which is why it’s just a temporary lot now” said OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin. “We’re very pleased that the city is moving forward on this, because we needed to find someone who was interested in doing a project there anyway. It works out well.”
McGean’s preliminary outlay for the construction would allow for a three-story, 10,700-square-foot building with an estimated cost of $2 million. Before moving into any more detail, McGean asked that the council allocate $165,000 to hire an architect to do a full design work-up.
The council approved the measure five-to-one, with Councilwoman Margaret Pillas absent and Councilman Brent Ashley in opposition. Ashley said he would prefer to see the city do a full location study to judge whether the OCDC lot was the best logistical option.
“We looked at this property, we looked at the property we have at First Street and St. Louis Avenue, we’ve looked near fire headquarters and at some properties that are privately owned, but we felt at the staff level that the Beach Patrol really liked this location,” McGean said.
“The site is very visible to everyone who comes downtown,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “It’s an opportunity for the town to show what can be done with redevelopment downtown.”
To that end, moving the OCBP will go a long way towards enabling the city’s long-discussed “model block” project. This would entail the city and/or OCDC acquiring all the property in the block between Dorchester and Somerset Streets and Baltimore and Philadelphia Avenues – where the OCBP headquarters is currently located – in order to facilitate a coordinated redevelopment project or projects that would transform the space into a model for downtown renewal.
“It gives us an opportunity to take the model block and have it ready when the opportunity comes to develop there,” Dare said. “That’s the first thing that anybody says about the model block, that we’ll have to find a place for the Beach Patrol first.”
McGean suggested that the city could also remove several of the other buildings it owns on the block at the same time the current OCBP building is razed. Most of these buildings are currently leased to OCDC for summer employee housing, but their absence would allow the city to install a larger, temporary parking lot on the block.
“We’ll still need to discuss if any or all three of those [buildings that OCDC uses] are going to be in the mix to make it a bigger lot,” Irwin said.
The city will take the $165,000 in design fees out of its standing reserve, and replace the money in a bond issuance planned for later this year, something that Ashley also said prevented him from voting for the project.
“We’re getting really close to $100 million in bonds,” he said. “Our revenues last year were flat, but our net debt increased by $14.3 million. Same revenue, more debt doesn’t make a good equation.””