OCEAN CITY – Master plans for the Downtown Recreation Complex were signed off on Tuesday morning at the Recreation and Parks Committee meeting when members unanimously voted to pass their recommendation of the plans to the Mayor and City Council.
The complex would encompass properties from Philadelphia Avenue to the west to the Chicago Avenue boardwalk and be bound by 3rd Street to the south and 4th Street to the north. This includes the existing ball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and skate park.
According to Tom Shuster, director of Recreation and Parks, the master plan has been worked on for several months with funds allocated from this year’s budget by a company out of Columbia, Md., called Slater Associates Inc., one who specializes in landscape architecture, site planning and land planning.
“Slater and Associates were chosen for their substantial background in recreation and park planning in the State of Maryland and the rest of the mid-Atlantic coast,” he said.
Shuster went on to mention how the plans would parallel those of the expanded skate park. He also pointed out the challenge this planned overhaul faces is that the area is already developed and has certain kinds of uses already in place. Not only that, it’s in an area that is in a mixed-use neighborhood that relies heavily on off-street parking.
John Slater, president of Slater and Associates Inc., began his presentation of the master plan by explaining how the company wanted to take the two blocks of land and make them seem as one. However, the heavily trafficked St. Louis Avenue that runs between the two played a major element in the design for how that would be done. He also added how they wanted the park to seamlessly connect to the bay, indicating something would have to be done about Chicago Avenue as well.
According to the master plan, in order to make the bay one of the focal points of the park, Chicago Avenue would have to be closed and the boardwalk would be extended back to reach the property line of the existing park area. This would be combined with raised landscaping to help block the elements of the bay, such as wind gusts and salt spray, from having an adverse effect on the rest of the park, similar to the effect sand dunes have on the oceanside.
To combine the two blocks and make them seem as one, eliminating a stretch of St. Louis Avenue wouldn’t be a viable solution so Slater proposed a different option.
“Right now there is no green between the street and the skate park, but if you eliminate parking on St. Louis Avenue along there you have the opportunity to add more green there and enhance the overall feel,” he said.
He also proposed raised crosswalks in that stretch of road that would act as a type of speed bump. This idea, combined with the narrowed road from the elimination of parking, should effectively slow traffic through the area. The bonus is that the added green, or landscaping, would achieve the goal of making the two parcels of land seem as one.
One final touch to enhance this spot would be a façade playing off the existing skate park wall, which Slater called “very, very ugly.”
“Right now you got chain link, you got wood, you got concrete, you got metal … it just needs a lot of work,” he explained. “Our thinking is that it would be fun to do a bowed side to it to apply shingles, even windows or painted windows, a little bit of roof on one piece. That along with the landscape treatment would help visually to totally change that side of the skateboarding wall and bring it into a scale that would be appropriate.”
As for the parking eliminated along St. Louis and Chicago avenues, it would be moved to places that run along the bayside parcel, parallel to the boardwalk.
Next to the skate park will be the current basketball courts as well as the tot lot playground, leaving enough room for a gazebo and other landscaping throughout that block of land.
Across St. Louis Avenue on the bayside, a large plot of land equaling almost half of this block will be a grassy field that can be used for a variety of activities ranging from football, Frisbee or soccer. According to Shuster, this will also double as a place for emergency aircraft like helicopters to land downtown.
Next to the field will be something many probably have never seen before, a concept Slater said he saw used at a park in California.
“I’m a firm believer that there are no new ideas,” he said. “We just take other ideas and modify them and work them to our own use.”
He proposed raised mounds of grass that would look like waves and jut out from the walkway that runs through the middle of the block. The waving grass mounds would reach almost to the soccer field where on the ends, bleacher like end peices would provide a place for visitors to sit and watch the action on the field.
Another unique idea Slater pointed out would be across the field on the other side of the path. Playing off the osprey structure that already exists on Philadelphia Avenue, a shade structure using canvas, similar to the ones found in Sunset Park, would be erected, except this one would have the shape of an osprey when looked at underneath or seen from above.
“We wanted to take the best of what is at Sunset Park and implement that here,” Slater added.
Other features mentioned for the park would include a brick path around the entire area, similar to those found around City Hall, new lighting, and better, more attractive fencing. Also included would be a red-roofed Victorian architecture structure, similar to the ones that currently reside on the Boardwalk, on the bayside entrance of the park. This would make the park easily visible from the bay as well, according to Slater.
The total estimated cost of the park as of now reaches a total of $2,249,921. According to Shuster, the project is planned to be built in two phases, one in the fiscal year of 2009, and the other in the fiscal year of 2010, so the cost would be distributed between those two budget years.