Mayor Gives Some Wiggle Room on Police Station’s Renovation Plan

first_imgMayor Jay Gillian, center, says the city will analyze plans for possibly renovating the old public safety building. By Donald WittkowskiMayor Jay Gillian said Thursday night that his proposal to overhaul Ocean City’s antiquated public safety building “is not a done deal” and stressed he will not try to force the $17.5 million project on taxpayers if it does not work.Speaking during a City Council meeting, Gillian emphasized that he has not made a final decision and will only do so after the project is thoroughly analyzed and discussed with local residents to solicit their opinions.“Nothing’s going to be force-fed,” he said. “The police station is not a done deal.”Gillian and members of Council indicated they would like to hold a town hall meeting to outline the project to the public before any votes are taken to possibly move forward with construction. A meeting date would be announced later.“A massive town hall meeting, I think that would be a step in the right direction,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said in comments echoed by other members of the governing body.Under Gillian’s plan, the public safety building would be renovated and expanded to create a more modern headquarters for the police department and municipal court. The project is one of the centerpieces of a proposed $112.2 million, five-year citywide capital plan that Gillian unveiled Tuesday night.The antiquated building, more than 100 years old, is the headquarters for the police department and municipal court.Gillian originally proposed tearing down the building and replacing it with an all-new public safety complex, but now considers the renovation plan the most cost-efficient option. The red-brick building, which was originally a school, is more than 100 years old and badly in need of updating.In promoting the project, the mayor said it would save a historic building, would not require the purchase of any land, would not eliminate any parking in the downtown business district and would not cause any interruptions in service during construction.The first floor of the old building at Eight Street and Central Avenue would be removed to comply with flood requirements by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gillian noted that much of the project’s construction cost will come from stabilizing the building once the first floor is removed.The mayor, though, noted that he has some reservations about the cost. He told Council that the city will perform a cost analysis to determine if the project could be changed or scaled back in any way to save money.“When we put the $17 million there, your heart stops,” he said, alluding to project’s estimated price tag in the capital plan.The public safety building would be the single-most expensive project among a total of $52 million in citywide improvements that are proposed in 2017 as part of the five-year capital plan.“It’s a big one,” Gillian said. “It’s a big chunk of change.”Council members indicated they are in favor of holding a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed project with the public.Michael Hinchman, an Ocean City resident and former president of the local government watchdog group Fairness In Taxes, objected to the project’s cost. He believes it is simply too expensive. In remarks to Council, Hinchman said the city should consult with professional builders and Police Chief Chad Callahan before making a decision about the renovation plan.The replacement or renovation of the public safety building has been the topic of debate for years. Gillian noted that his administration has explored many options in its quest to resolve the issue once and for all.Hartzell said the city has reached “a critical crossroads” with the project. He promised that the plan will be thoroughly studied, including discussions with taxpayers, before it comes to Council for a vote.In other business Thursday, Council took the first step toward transforming two blighted, former gas station sites along the Ninth Street gateway into landscaped green space. Council authorized advertising for construction bids for the projects.Under the plan, the old BP and Getty gas station sites next to each other at the foot of the Route 52 Causeway bridge would be turned into small parks as part of a beautification strategy for the Ninth Street corridor, the main artery into town.The city bought the BP property last year for $475,000. The old building and fuel pumps were demolished to remove the eyesore. The site remains empty while awaiting the landscaping plan.Negotiations continue for the city to buy the old Getty site. City spokesman Doug Bergen expressed hope this week that a deal will be completed.In an interview after the Council meeting, Gillian said he would like to have both the BP and Getty sites converted into green space by Memorial Day weekend, the start of the peak summer tourism season.The city wants to create a more inviting entryway to welcome visitors as they arrive in town on the Ninth Street corridor.The abandoned old Getty gas station on Ninth Street is being eyed for redevelopment into landscaped green space.last_img

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