By Donald Wittkowski
Aesthetically speaking, Ocean City’s Sports and Civic Center isn’t likely to win any architectural awards anytime soon, if ever, for beauty.
Its drab, utilitarian appearance is reminiscent of a warehouse.
Yet the building plays an important role in the city’s sports scene and as the venue for special events, including festivities for the family-friendly First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.
Hoping to turn it into a bigger, more functional facility, the city is planning to sink $2.2 million into the building this year for an expansion project and facelift.
It is one of the big-ticket items proposed by Mayor Jay Gillian in his five-year, $108.3 million capital plan presented to City Council on Thursday.
In 2019, the capital plans calls for a total of nearly $33.3 million in spending for an array of road, drainage and dredging projects as well as other upgrades to the city’s infrastructure, including overdue improvements to the Sports and Civic Center.
City officials unveiled an architectural rendering of the updated Sports and Civic Center project during Thursday’s Council meeting.
New locker rooms, bathrooms and a concession area are planned for the building, located at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk. An overhang will be added to the entryway to protect people from the rain and also to improve the building’s overall appearance.
The mayor pointed out that the city hasn’t done any upgrades to the facility “for a lot of years.”
“We’re looking at the whole facility, from the tennis courts up to the parking lot,” he said.
Gillian told Council that said he envisions the Sports and Civic Center becoming a money-maker. He said by expanding and improving the facility, it will make it more attractive to the sports teams that use the building during their workouts at the adjacent Carey Stadium high school athletic complex.
Gillian noted that the sports complex is already rented by some college athletic programs for their workouts. Villanova University’s football team practiced at the stadium last year. The mayor believes the improvement project will lead to college teams using the building and Carey Stadium even more, which would produce additional rental revenue for the city.
Over the years, the Sports and Civic Center has also served as an entertainment venue and as a staging area for special events on the Boardwalk.
On New Year’s Eve, the building is packed with children and families celebrating the city’s First Night festivities with games, bounce houses and other amusements.