OCDC considers expanding reach to 33rd St.Government funding for programs, local business reception to be considered
(April 21, 2017) Over the course of its 17 years of existence, the Ocean City Development Corporation has helped rejuvenate hundreds of properties in downtown neighborhoods. Now it’s considering whether to bring its services to midtown structures.
“We called ourselves ‘development corporation’, not the ‘downtown corporation’ because we always had the idea that we would expand,” OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said.
Irwin told the council during OCDC’s annual report last week that the nonprofit is considering expanding its reach – and grant funding – to cover 17th Street to 33rd Street, east of Philadelphia Avenue. That would add another 89.5 acres to OCDC’s reach.
Currently, the organization’s focus is between 17th Street and the inlet, a 255-acre area where it supplies funding for exterior renovations that meet certain design standards, business interior remodeling and strategic demolition.
“I think the council has wanted us to expand, since they’ve seen we’ve been successful,” Irwin said. “There’s some properties in that area that need special attention and working with the community has always been a strong point.”
OCDC formed in 2000 to revitalize the resort’s downtown area, starting with creating design standards that focus on the old fishing village-style charm. The nonprofit originally concerned itself with the area from Fourth Street south, covering 117 acres. But by 2005, property owners north of that point began to ask the OCDC for assistance with buildings that didn’t quite fit in with the neighborhood aesthetic, as many structures dated back to the 1920s.
Design standards were codified for those neighborhoods in 2006, and nonprofit expanded another 13 blocks north.
But before OCDC moves forward by growing its operations further, Irwin said there’s much to consider.
“We get a certain amount of grant money, and it’s already stretched out among the downtown. So if we go to 33rd Street, are we going to get pulled apart or are we going to have to make sacrifices?” he said.
One of OCDC’s popular initiatives is the façade program, which offers matching funds for exterior renovations that meet the nonprofit’s design criteria. The façade program receives around $50,000 in grants per year, which covers roughly 15 projects.
“If we expand up to 33rd Street, we might do less downtown, but one can argue that we’ve done 188 buildings already and maybe it will be more effective up north,” Irwin said.
Other matters depend on whether the state government allocated enough funding to continue programs, such as the business assistance grant. This program, which covers interior renovations for new or expanding businesses, was introduced in 2012 but has only been funded three times since.
This year, OCDC received $50,000 to renovate the Juice Shack and OC Wasabi Express on Philadelphia Avenue and Jasmine Nail Salon on Somerset Street.
OCDC has also “been fortunate” to receive one demolition grant for each of the past four years, Irwin said. The strategic demolition program received $65,000 this year to demolish 16 Baltimore Avenue.
Even if the additional funding is granted to cover the expansion, Irwin said there’s a matter of resources within the organization.
“Let’s say we ask the state for $100,000 for the façade program. That’s 30 projects. Do we have the means to take on that on top of everything else? Fifteenth to 33rd Streets [oceanside] is known as hotel-motel row, and do we create new design standards for that? That also takes up a lot of time,” he said.
Moving further north, there are more pockets of residential neighborhoods that were built in the last 30 years that OCDC might not want to get involved with. The Isle of Wight mobile home park off 24th Street is in that category, since mobile homes have their own standards. Condominiums also would not be covered, since condominium associations by law are supposed to have an operational cost reserve for such renovations.
But the biggest question is if the desire for this expansion even exists.
“When we expanded from Third Street to 17th Street, the neighbors came to us and asked. We haven’t seen that yet, so we don’t even know if they want us there,” Irwin said with a laugh.
To determine that, the nonprofit will survey business owners between 17th Street and 33rd Street this summer.