History lesson during walking tour

History lesson during walking tour

 

(Nov. 7, 2014) A walking tour of Ocean City, combined with the fifth-day celebration of Maryland’s Community Development Week, brought dozens of people to the doors of the Ocean City Development Corporation on Dorchester Street Oct. 24 to learn more about the area’s history and the current projects taking place to better the neighborhoods of Maryland. The Ocean City Development Corporation’s mission is “to create an economically sound and socially healthy downtown Ocean City where revitalization has capitalized on the positive aspects of the area to create a sense of character, charm and community for both residents and visitors.”

OCDC recently celebrated their 150th renovated building under their façade program in the downtown area. The program provides subsidies to property owners for exterior renovations of their buildings, with funding drawn from OCDC’s private donors as well as public grant funding from city, county, state, and federal sources.

The façade program is seen as a win-win proposition for residents and the town coffers by providing higher-quality housing stock for local families while also boosting property values for tax purposes.

OCDC also pioneered the design guidelines that were put into place for Ocean City buildings roughly 10 years ago. Attractive, simple and white are commonly chosen schemes to blend everything together. The guidelines promote traditional architectural themes while also conforming to current design and maintenance rules.

Glenn Irwin, executive director of OCDC, also mentioned another program that’s hitting its stride – the Green Building Program, which subsidizes energy-efficient roof replacement options. About 15 have been completed to date.

In addition, OCDC sponsors the painting of utility boxes on the surrounding side streets in downtown Ocean City to celebrate public art and remove public utility eyesores. Local artists have been decorating these boxes for decades, but dirt eventually builds up on the art, requiring the creation of a new piece. As Irwin guided the tour, he pointed out Katelyn Millison, a Maryland native, painting a sea turtle-themed box on Talbot Street.

Moving on, Irwin reminded everyone Sunset Park had been a dead-end street only seven or eight years ago. Now concerts, movies and weddings take place there. As many as 300 people have attended live music events on Thursday nights during the summer, although it doesn’t yet appear on many tourists’ radar screens.

A downtown tour isn’t complete without a visit to Trimper’s. The century-old landmark amusement area donated and replaced the fence surrounding their rides during renovations completed in 2005. Numerous Sycamore trees were planted on the sidewalk beyond Trimper’s white fences.

Another aspect of Ocean City’s past was revealed at the next stop: Henry’s Hotel, formally known as ‘Henry’s Colored Hotel.’ One of the oldest buildings in Ocean City, it has stood since 1895. Up through the 1960’s, the hotel was the primary lodging for African-American visitors, including a number of famous jazz musicians, who were not allowed to stay in segregated Boardwalk hotels.

Somerset Plaza was the first project in which OCDC received state grant money, in 2002, in order to renovate the streetscape. It became “a half pedestrian” street, Irwin explained, with the Atlantic Hotel – one of Ocean City’s first hotels – as well as several renovated storefronts. Select Saturdays in the summer feature live music on Somerset Plaza.

After Somerset Plaza, Irwin led the tour to the new Fat Daddy’s building on the corner of Baltimore and Dorchester Ave. Grant funding arranged through OCDC helped to rebuild the crumbling building into a mixed-use project over the past two years. Now, about 40 employees live in the top half.

OCDC has also sponsored several public sculptures, most notably the stainless steel White Marlin at the foot of the Route 50 bridge. Their newest venture, a dolphin sculpture adjacent to Route 90, should be completed in November.

Odette Ramos, the executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland Inc. (CDN), gave a few words highlighting the progress their organization and OCDC has made across the state and its positive impacts on the community.

“From transforming urban blight to building more livable, walk-able communities, to working one-on-one with community members, community development makes a profound impact on neighborhoods, towns, cities and rural areas. It’s all about making our communities and the people who live in them stronger. That is why the community development industry in Maryland is ‘leading the way to stronger communities.’ We want everyone to know about the amazing work being accomplished by this industry, our members, and other organizations across the state,” said Ramos.

CDN works on a variety of projects to improve neighborhoods including rehabilitation or demolition of vacant properties, affordable housing, the creation of communal gardens, after school programs and public safety.

CDN’s goal is to increase awareness of the social and economic impact of the community development industry on the quality of life in Maryland.

The inaugural Maryland Community Development Week visited Baltimore City, Maryland DC suburbs, Western Maryland, Central Maryland and of course, the Eastern Shore from Oct. 20 to Oct. 27. Revitalization work, public art and murals were among the community development projects taking place in these areas.

Joining the tour were Mayor Rick Meehan and State Senator Jim Mathias. They both gave encouraging words to the organizations about their efforts in Ocean City.

Meehan praised the two groups on implementing their main street programs, offering affordable housing and supporting small businesses. He called it a “significant accomplishment” for Maryland’s citizens.

Mathias talked about the positive difference he has seen downtown in the last 18 years.

“You showed it wasn’t just a dream, we appreciate you Odette,” he said. The former mayor noted how these organizations have helped bring people back to the Eastern Shore and he called Ocean City, “the greatest resort town in the country.”

To learn more about OCDC walking tours and the projects they are involved with, visit http://www.ocdc.org/.

Glenn Irwin, executive director of Ocean City’s
Development Corporation, says a few words after the
downtown Ocean City tour, Oct. 24.

 

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