Ocean City Today

Miller outlines busy 2018 for city government

Tackling vehicle events and big building projects ahead
By Greg Ellison | Jan 05, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison City Manager Doug Miller outlined 2018 priorities, including several Boardwalk related projects.

(Jan. 5, 2018) Addressing safety concerns, maintaining the resort’s image, boosting sports tourism, undertaking major construction projects and increasing revenues are the 2018 priorities for Ocean City government.

City Manager Doug Miller said the focus remains the same: align the resort’s growth with its marketing as a successful Mid-Atlantic vacation destination.

“We want to maintain and enhance the fact that we are a premier national resort,” he said. “To do that, we have to continue to do things we do well and address a couple of [issues] that is a challenge to our brand.”

Among the top concerns of resort officials are the car and motorcycle shows such as Cruisin’ Ocean City, OC BikeFest and the unsanctioned H2O International, whose popularity and participation have reached a point where efforts to control them can be overwhelming.

Resident concerns about heavy traffic and the noise these events generate became even greater last year after a cancelled H2Oi rally still drew thousands of cars and drivers apparently bent on tearing up Coastal Highway.

“They started out, especially the Cruisin’ events, as a great deal for shoulder season for the town, but they’ve kind of evolved into something [else],” he said. “As with anything, a minority of the participants get out of hand and create a problem.”

Hoping to reign in the car, truck and bike rallies, the city formed a 27-member Motor Events Task Force, whose membership includes community leaders, business owners, law enforcement, government officials and event organizers.

After a three-hour-plus inaugural meeting in December, the task force is scheduled to reconvene this month and to make recommendations to the mayor and City Council.

“We’re going to try to keep the events but have them comport better with the Ocean City brand,” he said.

Also in the area of maintaining the resort’s image, City Hall will continue its effort to push proposed offshore wind farms beyond the horizon.

“We support wind farms, but we don’t want them in our view,” he said.

The precise distance from shore that would place them out of sight is being negotiated, Miller said.

“We’re a $3 billion — with a ‘B’ — dollar business,” he said. “People don’t come down to look out from an expensive condo or hotel room … at 80 or 90 windmills off the coast.”

Back onshore, Miller said the city will take steps to increase security on the Boardwalk by restricting vehicular access.

“Now, unfortunately, terrorists believe that a motor vehicle is a weapon of choice,” he said.

The council in November approved $80,000 to cover the cost of the engineering design for barriers at 36 possible vehicle access points along the 2.25-mile walkway. Currently, the city is soliciting proposals for that work from engineering firms.

The cost of erecting what, in some circumstances, would be specialized barriers is expected to top $1 million, and that work probably would not be completed until summer 2019. In the meantime, temporary blockades and other measures are planned for this summer.

That’s not the only attention the Boardwalk will be getting this year, as the city will begin the three-year process of replacing its decking.

“We used to not have to worry about re-decking the Boardwalk, because within the lifespan of the Boardwalk, it used to be a hurricane would come and wipe it out,” he said. “Then we built the seawall and it protects the Boardwalk from high water, so now our issue is the decking actually wears out.”

More expensive capital projects are on this year’s agenda as well, Miller said.

“We have a couple of construction projects going on [like] the new tram building close to City Hall … and we’re upgrading the public works facility at 65th Street [to include] a new bus barn,” he said.

In late November, the council approved an ordinance to sell $28 million in municipal bonds to finance the city’s portion of three major undertakings:  phase three of a $34.4 million expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the public works department and transit facility upgrades at $29 million and the construction of a downtown public works facility for $3 million.

In addition to the proceeds of the bond sale, the city will receive $20.4 million from the state for the convention center expansion, and $18 million in federal grants to upgrade the 65th Street public works and transit headquarters.

Although these capital improvements will be paid for via grants and bonds, local money has to cover the rising cost of regular operations. In that vein, Miller said the city will be seeking new sources of revenue.

“With the shoulder season [growing] … it puts more stress on us,” Miller said. “It’s a challenge, but in a positive way.”

One way of generating new income could be putting greater emphasis on sports tourism, Miller said.

“We do a good job of that, but we need more athletic fields and space inside to be able to attract more of that market,” he said.

To that end, the council in November commissioned a feasibility study for constructing an expanded sports facility, the cost of which is undetermined at this juncture.

“We’re working with the county to try to add to our inventory of indoor and outdoor athletic facilities,” he said. “They’re looking at a facility maybe in the north county, which we would support because those facilities would be close to us. Those people are going to stay and … eat in Ocean City.”

During his tenure as city manager, Miller has seen just how broad the resort’s appeal is, courtesy of a marketing survey orchestrated by Councilman Dennis Dare and Budget Manager Jennie Knapp

“They had a license plate game between Memorial Day and Labor Day [to] count how many plates from different states were here in Ocean City,” he said.

Much to Millers surprise, by the end of summer his tally sheet was missing only the Dakotas and Wyoming.

“Every other state I saw a license plate … even Hawaii,” he said. “We’re not a state resort [or] a regional resort, we’re a national resort, so we want to maintain that.”

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