By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Pedestrians doing some shopping or having lunch in downtown Ocean City may notice a drone hovering around the landmark former Crown Bank building at the corner of Eighth Street and Asbury Avenue.
The drone, owned by the city, is being used by an engineering consultant to check the structural condition of the exterior and windows of the six-story tower that was built in 1925.
The engineering assessment is a prelude to the city’s possible purchase of the privately owned building out of bankruptcy. City officials have not mentioned any purchase price for the building, although it is listed for sale at just under $8.5 million by local realty companies.
City Business Administrator George Savastano told City Council at the Aug. 25 meeting that the city has no specific plans for the building at this time if it does acquire it.
“While there are no definite ideas yet for what the ultimate public purpose of the property would be, it clearly presents a number of options if it were to come into public ownership,” Savastano said.
Only a block away from the former bank building is the city’s Police Department headquarters and municipal court at Eighth Street and Central Avenue. The police headquarters is a converted school building more than 100 years old. City officials have been debating plans about possibly developing a new police headquarters and municipal court to replace the antiquated building.
Mayor Jay Gillian has announced that he will hold a public meeting sometime in the future to discuss ideas – both old and new – for developing a new police headquarters.
In 2020, the mayor proposed building a combined headquarters for the police and fire departments at 550 Asbury Ave. The estimated cost is $42 million. Council balked at the proposal, calling the price too expensive.
City spokesman Doug Bergen reiterated Savastano’s earlier comments when asked whether the city government might consider the former Crown Bank building as a new site for the police station.
“As George said, the city has no specific plans or considerations for the building other than to see if it’s fit for any use,” Bergen said in an email Monday.
The building currently serves as an office and retail location in the heart of downtown. It has been on and off the market in recent years. At one point, it was being pitched for an array of potential development options, including the possibility of converting it into a hotel, an entertainment complex, a recreation site, retail stores and multi-family housing.
Making the building even more attractive to potential buyers are 60 surface parking spaces in the back of the property.
Savastano told Council on Aug. 25 that the building is “extremely worthy of consideration for acquisition, given its prime location within our downtown.”
He said the city has been in contact with the bankruptcy trustee about possibly buying the building, which is owned by 801 Asbury Associates LLC. The next step is for the city to evaluate the overall condition of the building, including its structural soundness and the mechanical, electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems.
City Council awarded a $32,000 contract on Sept. 8 to the engineering and planning firm Gibson Associates P.A. to perform the structural assessment.
In a Sept. 7 memo to the city attached to the Council agenda, the company’s president, Mark Gibson, wrote that the company would conduct “a detailed above ground visual and hands-on structural inspection” of the building.
Gibson Associates also plans to submit a “structural defect report” to the city detailing the findings of its inspection.
Gibson also noted in the memo that his company will use the city’s drone to take photos of the building’s external facade, especially around the windows and trim areas of the upper floors.
Bergen said the inspection is underway, but the work has not yet finished up.
The city’s drone was purchased within the past few year and is normally used for stormwater reporting to the state because not all of the outfall pipes are easily accessible by foot, Bergen said.