By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City’s main entryway and its top tourist attraction are both in line for major upgrades as part of separate projects scheduled for a vote by City Council at its meeting Thursday.
The Ninth Street corridor, the principal artery into town, will be spruced up when the city acquires a blighted former Getty gas station and redevelops the site into green space.
Council is expected to approve a $650,000 funding package to buy the old gas station at the highly visible corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue.
Plans call for tearing down the abandoned Getty building to rid the Ninth Street corridor of one of its most notorious eyesores.
The Getty property will be combined with a former BP gas station site next door to create a landscaped park that is a centerpiece of the city’s strategy to turn Ninth Street into a more inviting gateway for visitors.
The old BP site, another former eyesore marring the appearance of Ninth Street, was bought by the city last year for $475,000. The old BP building and gas pumps have already been demolished.
Barring any delays with the city’s proposed purchase of the Getty property, the new park that will replace the two old gas stations is expected to be ready by Memorial Day weekend, city officials say.
In another vote scheduled by Council at its meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, bids will be sought for the final stage of a multiyear reconstruction of the Boardwalk, the city’s No. 1 tourist attraction.
Bids are expected to be opened on April 18 and awarded April 27 for the project. The work includes adding a new deck and substructure to the Boardwalk between 10th and 12th streets. Construction will begin immediately after Columbus Day.
Already, the city has rebuilt the Boardwalk between Fifth and 10th streets. The last phase between 10th and 12th streets will wrap up the entire, estimated $10 million project within five years, two years ahead of the original schedule.
“The city’s most valuable and iconic resource will be safe and strong for years to come,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement posted on the city’s website.
Council is also scheduled Thursday to hold a public hearing and take a final vote on new regulations for the singers, musicians and other Boardwalk performers who entertain the crowds during the peak summer tourism season.
Gillian had proposed two other versions of the Boardwalk performers ordinance, but yanked them following complaints from the public, including a number of entertainers. The mayor said it was important to take as much time as needed to craft a compromise that would acceptable to both the performers and the Boardwalk merchants.
The Boardwalk Merchants Association, a group representing store owners, requested the ordinance to prevent large crowds from milling around the entertainers and blocking access to their shops.
The newest version of the ordinance drops Gillian’s former proposal for fingerprinting and criminal background checks of adult-age performers, a plan that critics had labeled heavy-handed.
The ordinance would require performers to pay $50 for a license. However, they could be denied a license if they have a criminal history of “dishonesty” or have been convicted of a fourth-degree crime or higher.
Under the plan, performers would be allowed on the ocean side of the Boardwalk at Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th streets. They could also perform at the Boardwalk’s oceanfront pavilions between Fifth and 14th streets. In addition, they would be allowed on the ocean side of the Boardwalk between Fifth and Sixth streets.
They would be permitted to perform on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The hours would be between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. each of those nights except for Sunday, which would be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Gillian explained that the performers would not be allowed on the Boardwalk on Tuesday and Thursday to avoid conflicts with the professional entertainment on those nights arranged by the merchants.
In another key vote Thursday, Council is expected to introduce the 2017 municipal budget. The proposed $79.7 million spending plan is up about 5 percent compared to last year, largely due to an increase in debt payments for new construction projects and higher health insurance costs.
The budget would increase the local tax rate by nearly 3 cents, adding an extra $143 in local taxes per year to a home assessed at $500,000. The figure does not include county and school taxes, which are assessed separately.
Frank Donato, the city’s finance director, said higher taxes will help pay for $33 million worth of new projects this year in the mayor’s proposed capital plan – a blueprint for road work, drainage upgrades, dredging projects, the Boardwalk’s reconstruction and other improvements.