Ocean City Today

Privatized Boardwalk?

Council will consider idea as it continues to look for ways to control street performers
By Katie Tabeling | Oct 12, 2017
File Photo

(Oct. 13, 2017) Although some resort officials have suggested privatizing the Boardwalk, ostensibly signing over its management to the Ocean City Development Corporation, OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin this week such an approach would be complicated.

“There haven’t been any discussions with the city, but … we’re a small nonprofit.” Irwin said. “There’s a lot to consider.”

Although the idea at this point is just a suggestion, privatizing the Boardwalk could end city official’s struggle to regulate the activity on it, particularly the performers. Since a coalition of buskers filed a lawsuit against the city’s registration system in 2015, the city has incurred $276,600 in legal fees.

In addition, the plaintiffs in the case, led by local government critic Tony Christ, filed a motion for a summary judgement in its favor last Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Before such an ownership could be made, City Council officials would have to consider how the Boardwalk would be maintained and operated.

According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, more than a dozen employees are needed to keep the Boardwalk clean and functioning. This work involves everything from taking out the trash to changing light-bulbs. Trash collection alone takes 12 employees during the morning shift from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“We have a crew operating a truck to empty the barrels from the inlet to 33rd Street every morning,” Adkins said. “Then we have guys that walk up and down with a leaf blower to blow out the trash from nooks and crannies so that someone can sweep it up on a broom machine. At night, we just dump the barrels.”

Public Works is also responsible for replacing boards that are damaged or weak. About $25,000 was allocated to repair any boards since the Boardwalk was re-decked in 2011. But since it’s been deteriorating at an accelerated rate, the funding for repairs was increased to $45,000 this year.

“We’re probably going to have to re-deck in two or three years,” Adkins said. “There’s nothing wrong — the wood’s just worn out.”

The upkeep of the Boardwalk would be far beyond what OCDC can do in its present situation. Begun in 2000 with the goal of revitalizing the downtown area, the OCDC has expanded its reach but still has just two full-time employees. It also has a full docket of current projects.

“We have plenty of businesses we’re working with, and still a lot to discuss with the city.”

One way Ocean City could handle the matter is to strike an agreement with third party, as it has done with the fishing pier. Charles “Buddy” Jenkins struck a 50-year franchise agreement with the resort in 1979 to open, repair and maintain the pier. However, any major additions must be approved by the City Council.

Councilman Wayne Hartman, who advocates privatizing the Boardwalk, said that a franchise agreement might not be the answer.

“I don’t know what the legal component may be. It may not be franchise,” he said. “But it should be some sort of agreement with a partner of Ocean City that benefits the holder.”

Hartman said that he first “threw the concept out there” when he attended a strategic planning session before he was elected. The legal options would have to be fully vetted before the council proceeds on privatizing the Boardwalk.

“It’s crazy and out there, but there’s still concerns about the performers and preserving the Boardwalk,” he said. “We have a lot of components, but if it’s possible and something we have to do, we’ll do it.”

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