By MADDY VITALE
The majority of people are likely happy to bid 2020 goodbye and with good reason.
Throughout the year, Ocean City residents, including business owners and students, have endured struggles like so many other Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Families had to reconfigure their schedules and the new normal was the hybrid learning model for school.
A peaceful protest on June 2 brought thousands of people to the resort to show their outrage over the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May.
The closure of the beaches and the Boardwalk created a surreal existence for visitors.
But when the beaches and the Boardwalk reopened in May, it brought throngs of tourists.
When Tropical Storm Isaias hit the area Aug. 4, it packed winds of 72 mph, downing trees and causing power outages for residents.
Some good things to recall from the year came in the way of community spirit. Ocean City residents volunteered their time to feed the hungry and help those struggling emotionally or financially.
These stories selected as the most memorable from 2020 are listed in chronological order.
Council Approves Funds for Land Purchase
In February, Council approved a funding package of nearly $12 million to acquire the land from the private owners, Klause Enterprises and Palmer Center LLC.
Three bond ordinances approved recently will increase the total amount that the city is offering to pay for the parcels to about $12.5 million.
The centerpiece of the three properties is the former site of the Perry-Egan Chevrolet dealership at 16th and Simpson. With the extra money that is being added now, the city is offering about $6.9 million for that piece of land.
At the same time it is buying the former auto dealership site from the Klause brothers, the city is looking to acquire two adjacent parcels that would round out the block bordered by 16th and 17th streets between Simpson and Haven avenues.
Those two parcels are controlled by Palmer Center LLC, a group owned by John Flood, a real estate developer and former city councilman.
The three parcels would help the city to create a corridor of public land stretching from 15th to 20th streets.
Schools Go Hybrid During COVID-19
The Ocean City district closed on March 16 at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a day before Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to shut down schools statewide.
The following day, Ocean City schools offered the hybrid learning model, which combines virtual and in-person instruction for students. Throughout the pandemic, the school has remained committed to staying open.
Just recently, the district limited some of the in-person hours. Throughout the pandemic, Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor has emphasized that the goal is to stay open, but to do so safely. She noted that if the COVID-19 cases surge, the district may have to make further adjustments and that it is a fluid situation.
In December, the district set up a COVID-19 committee comprised of a medical doctor who is on the Board of Education and other health care professionals and experts in the field.
Construction Begins in May on Major Housing Project
After a slight delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Ocean City’s public housing agency began construction in May on a nearly $7 million affordable housing project for senior citizens.
The Ocean City Housing Authority originally had planned to celebrate the start of construction with a formal groundbreaking ceremony on April 4, but the event was called off because of social distancing requirements and the state’s ban on large gatherings.
Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order on April 8 that halted most of the construction projects around New Jersey to help slow the spread of COVID-19. However, the order exempts certain types of essential projects that would be allowed to continue, including construction of affordable housing.
Jacqueline Jones, the Ocean City Housing Authority’s executive director, said the project is expected to open in May 2021.
Beaches Open, Boardwalk Bustles
After the COVID-19 pandemic closed beaches in Ocean City and elsewhere to sunbathers, on May 16, visitors could once again enjoy the gem at the shore. During that week, the Boardwalk was reopened for recreational purposes.
The reopening of the beaches to sunbathers meant a bit of normalcy during the pandemic for those who enjoy lounging on the sand or frolicking in the surf.
Nikki Leathers, of Terre Hill, Pa., joined her family for a day of fun at “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” She summed up the overall sentiment of beachgoers that day, “It feels like a normal day.”
Protesters Fight Racism Peacefully
For nearly nine minutes, George Floyd laid on the ground, while a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck until the 46-year-old man was dead.
Some of Floyd’s last reported words since the May 25 killing were said to be “Momma” and “I can’t breathe.”
The brutality of the killing resonated with the country as demonstrations throughout major cities continued.
On June 2, peaceful protesters took to the foot of the Route 52 Causeway on the Somers Point side and made their way over the bridge to Ocean City, making the last stop at the city’s police headquarters.
Re-enacting Floyd’s last moments of life, hundreds of protesters kneeled, then lay face down on the street in front of the police department, for the eight minutes and 46 seconds that since-fired Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck before the man died.
Council Members Take Office, Vow to Help City Recover
Two incumbents and two political newcomers took the oath of office on July 1 on City Council and immediately presented a unified front in efforts to get the beach resort fully reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael DeVlieger and Bob Barr are returning to Council for new terms, while Jody Levchuk and Tom Rotondi joined the governing body for the first time after winning seats in the May municipal election.
Barr was appointed president and DeVlieger assumed the role as vice president in a reorganization of the leadership positions on the seven-member Council.
DeVlieger, who is starting his third term, represents the First Ward. Barr, who is entering his second term, is the Fourth Ward councilman.
Levchuk, won his Third Ward seat in the city’s only contested race, while Rotondi ran unopposed in the Second Ward.
Tropical Storm Isaias Makes Force Known
Tropical Storm Isaias made its way up the coast on Aug. 4 and into Ocean City, leaving property damaged, a lot of downed trees and utility wires, loss of power and debris in its wake.
There were no reported injuries in Ocean City.
And something else good about the tropical storm for coastal communities: Unlike in some tropical storms, this one took an inland track.
Not all communities in the area were so lucky.
A tornado touched down in the neighboring community of Marmora, leaving significant property damage, including to a Coca-Cola plant.
Ocean City’s Wider Beaches Draw Raves
Ocean City’s shoreline was replenished in a major project that included dumping new sand onto both north and south end beaches.
The project began in the spring of 2020 and was completed in September.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was the federal agency that oversaw the project.
The $32.5 million contract for the replenishment project also included delivering sand to Strathmere and Sea Isle City beaches.
Despite hulking machinery on the beaches at various locations throughout the summer, bathers and other beachgoers in Ocean City didn’t seem to mind too much.
Danny Russo, of Hoboken, looked out over the beach in the north end near Seaspray Road on a September morning, and said he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“The beaches are like four times bigger than they were last year,” he said.
Ocean City Proposes $35 Million Public Safety Building
Mayor Jay Gillian unveiled plans on Oct. 24 for a new $35 million public safety building that would combine Ocean City’s police, fire, emergency management and municipal court operations in one complex.
“It’s the right place. It’s the right time,” Gillian said of the proposed project in remarks during a town hall meeting at the Ocean City Tabernacle to present conceptual plans to the public.
City officials have discussed a number of possibilities for replacing or modernizing the antiquated, 130-year-old public safety building, a former school that serves as the police department’s headquarters and location for the municipal court.
After considering different proposals, Gillian said he believes the best option is to combine the operations of the police and fire departments along with the office of emergency management, the 911 system and the municipal court in one centrally located building.
Ocean City Plans $25 Million in Flood-Control Projects
Ocean City plans to spend about $25 million in the next five years as part of a comprehensive flood-control strategy to protect neighborhoods that are particularly vulnerable to stormwater
The plan includes new pumping stations, road construction, drainage systems, berms, retention walls and other measures to prevent stormwater from inundating parts of the low-lying island.
Mayor Jay Gillian and other city representatives outlined the plan during a virtual town hall meeting Dec. 5.