(Jan. 25, 2012) Although there appears to have been some issue raised by some businesses over the efficacy of drawing larger crowds to the street, public support for the city’s designs to expand the Somerset Street bus stop, which brings visitors into downtown Ocean City from off the island, continues to be expressed.
“We’ve had drama on that street every year [since it was redeveloped] for whatever reason,” said Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin. “But to clarify, almost every business I spoke with said that it [the bus stop] has been very good for that street.”
“All of us do appreciate what you did with the bus situation, because they do use our businesses there frequently,” storeowner Shane Ward to the council this week.
OCDC – the city-backed nonprofit that sponsors redevelopment projects in the downtown area – spearheaded a project some years ago to close Somerset Street between Baltimore Avenue and the Boardwalk to vehicular traffic, and to redevelop the strip into a pedestrian plaza with greater retail frontage as a catalyst for off-Boardwalk business growth.
For the past two summers, the city has also designated the bus stop on the southwest corner of Somerset and Baltimore for use by private buses from outside the resort. Specifically, three major off-island accommodations and attractions – the Francis Scott Key, Castaways’ Campground, and Frontier Town – have been instructed by the city to use the stop as a drop-off and pick-up for their shuttle buses that ferry patrons to and from the resort.
Besides helping to reduce traffic congestion, the stop also prompts visitors to use the Somerset plaza to access the Boardwalk, creating valuable foot traffic along the corridor.
Last week, at the request of city’s Public Works Department, the council approved an expansion of the bus stop – currently no different from the usual city bus waypoint – to encompass a larger area by using space from the municipal parking lot behind the stop.
According to Irwin, nearly 2,000 people use the stop on a busy summer day.
“It’s a very integral part of what we offer,” said Frontier Town General Manager Harold Decker. “We want to make sure that we show our support fully for the town expanding this.”
Use of the Somerset Street stop, while a boon for city businesses, has created somewhat cramped conditions for buses and riders. Prior to 2011, Decker said, his and other off-island destinations had used the Trailways bus station on Second Street as a transfer point. But the aging bus terminal was demolished three years ago.
“That opportunity dried up, but the town was gracious enough to allow us to hop on down there to Somerset,” Decker said. “We try to do what they as ask far as squeezing in there.”
Decker also anticipated that need for the stop will continue to be strong. Despite national economic conditions, “we’ve kept a level occupancy,” he said, something he attributes to a wide and diverse customer base.
“It’s a great clientele. It crosses all economic boundaries,” Decker said.