The former Exxon station at the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue is expected to become a new home for Keller Williams Real Estate.
An image-conscious town that bills itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort” has had to deal with the specter of three abandoned gas stations marring the appearance of its main entryway.
But plans are unfolding in Ocean City for one of these ghostly hulks at the foot of the Ninth Street Bridge to be redeveloped into a multimillion-dollar real estate office for Keller Williams.
Moreover, the city is exploring the possibility of acquiring and demolishing the two other old gas stations as part of Mayor Jay Gillian’s five-year capital plan, which was unveiled last week.
Gillian has proposed using $1.5 million for various property acquisitions this year within the $98.5 million capital program.
Not wanting to tip its hand in negotiations with property owners, the city has not yet divulged how much of the $1.5 million it would be willing to spend to buy the gas stations. But city officials are making no secret of their desire to get rid of the blight.
“That’s part of the mayor’s concern and why we may look to acquire them,” said Frank Donato, the city’s finance director. “It doesn’t seem like they will ever reopen as gas stations.”
The mayor and other city officials are worried about the impression the rotting buildings are making on tourists. An old Exxon station at the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue is one of the first things visitors see as they enter town. As visitors leave the city, they are confronted by empty Getty and BP stations on the other side of Ninth and Bay.
“It’s a shame to have that blight when you enter the city through our main artery,” Donato said.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger, who would like to see the gas stations demolished and turned into landscaped parks, said they look “like heck.”
“To watch something decay at the entrance of the city is ridiculous,” DeVlieger said.
As a first step, DeVlieger wants the property owners to remove the old underground gasoline storage tanks to lessen the threat of environmental contamination.
DeVlieger questioned Gillian about the old gas stations when the mayor presented his capital plan to City Council on Jan. 19. Gillian responded that he too wants to see the sites cleaned up. The mayor also said that talks continue between the city and the property owners.
Council approved an ordinance last June that gives the city more power to acquire abandoned properties considered a nuisance. It grants the city the right to take control of abandoned sites, borrow money for their renovation or rehabilitation and then recoup those costs through property liens at the time of sale, said City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson.
The old gas stations “started the conversation” about having such an ordinance, McCrosson noted. However, she declined to say whether the city is currently negotiating with property owners to acquire the stations.
As frustrating as the old stations have been for city officials, one of the properties finally appears headed for a full makeover. Eric Booth, sales agent for Keller Williams, said the real estate company has reached an agreement to buy the old Exxon site and expects to close the deal in February. He declined to disclose the price.
Booth said Keller Williams plans to demolish the station and build a new office in its place to accommodate the company’s growing workforce. He estimated the project would be completed in about a year, giving Keller Williams an Ocean City hub in a prominent location.
“The city should be very happy with a new, multimillion-dollar office building,” Booth said.
In the meantime, the old Exxon station and its crumbling Getty and BP counterparts across the street, remain standing.
“It’s our entrance, it’s our gateway. It’s our obligation to make it as beautiful as possible,” DeVlieger said of the need for a facelift.
Showing its age, the former Getty site includes a rusty sign that displays the gas prices when the station was still in business. Compared to today’s low gas prices, caused by the plunging global cost of crude oil, the charges on the Getty sign seem almost comical. Getty’s prices were $2.73 per gallon for regular gas, $3.29 for plus grade and $3.39 for premium.