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Revenue component likely at park

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Feb. 1, 2018) The sky is the limit to what Berlin Falls park can become, although the reality is development will almost certainly be limited by available funding.

Town Administrator Laura Allen, last Thursday, told the dozen members of the Berlin Falls Park Advisory Committee to dream big, but also be realistic.

“We’re looking for an end result that’s really going to be cool,” Allen said. “My natural inclination is to let you go dream – dream, dream, dream. But, dreaming big can be expensive. And so, the other part of me is going to be coming out and saying, well here’s what that’s going to cost, here’s some ways we might be able to make that work.

“Part of my goal with this development is to have at least some revenue-producing activities on [the park] to help offset the cost of the purchase, and also offset the cost of the development of the park itself,” she added.

Allen asked committee members to weigh in, during future meetings, on park concept plans developed by Baltimore firm EDSA, Inc. in 2016.

“We’ve got some ideas from the consultants that we worked with, but nothing solid that’s lined up and ready to go at this point,” she said. “Part of what we’re looking for is feedback from you on those [designs].”

She said the town could produce revenue by charging for events like concerts and renaissance fairs, or by leasing a portion of the park for use as a BMX or skateboard park, or YMCA facility.

Committee member Roger Fitzgerald argued Dr. William Henry and Stephen Decatur parks did not produce revenue.

“My response would be there’s really no other park like this,” Allen said.

Committee member Kate Patton compared Berlin Falls to Northside Park in Ocean City.

“This is our first opportunity [in Berlin] to have kind of the parks and recreation,” she said. “Maybe this, out of the Berlin parks, is not the best park, but it has the most space, so there may be some options we’re not thinking of.”

However, Ocean City Recreation Superintendent Kate Gaddis, also a committee member, cautioned recreation and parks facilities “are not money makers … it’s hard to make that happen unless you’re literally just selling a pass.”

Committee Chairwoman Amy Field suggested boiling down any potential development to a handful of questions: “Is it good for our goals … is it Berlin enough for us … can everybody enjoy this?”

“What does everybody love about Berlin? Of course the word cool, but artsy and welcoming and fun and green and inclusive. If we come up with an idea, is it Berlin enough or can we make it Berlin enough to be worthy to go in this park?” Field said. “[Also], talk about the inclusivity piece of it, just to make sure it really speaks to, could anybody and everybody in our community enjoy this?”

Several times, talk turned back to the YMCA. Park project manager David Deutsch said he did “a fair amount of investigation” into a partnership, touring facilities and meeting with YMCA officials.

“There’s some significant work that would have to occur, including a marketing study,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of groundwork … we’ve spent some time looking at the YMCA model in the region.

“We understand what they’re looking for and there is an interest and a willingness to work with us on a potential facility in Berlin,” Deutsch added. “I think we ought to talk about it, because it’s a significant venture.”

When committee member Joan Maloof offered, “maybe … we dream big and we say 20 years from now this is where the community swimming pool is going to go,” Deutsch responded, “Maybe five years from now the YMCA addresses that.”

“This YMCA idea – I’m getting the feeling there’s been extensive discussion of this already,” committee Vice Chairman Jack Orris said.

“Extensive is kind of a loaded word,” Deutsch said.

“Deliberate,” Orris said.

“Well, we’ve met with the folks who are in charge of the regional YMCA. We haven’t had contractual conversations, certainly,” Deutsch said. “They expressed a wiliness to partner with this community, so, you know, there’s not a lot of work that’s been done in terms of moving it forward, but at least we’ve had discussions. We understand that there’s an interest.”

Deutsch said he toured YMCA facilities in Pocomoke, Salisbury and Easton and mentioned the existing building at Berlin Falls – admittedly in bad shape – as a potential location in Berlin.

“One of the themes that I’ve heard in each of my conversations with the elected officials is the lack of a swimming facility. That was kind of a reoccurring theme when I met individually with the councilmembers going on a year ago,” he said.

“A swimming facility doesn’t have to be built by Y,” Maloof said.

“But … leasing the space so that you don’t have to tie up town resources to run it [would be ideal],” Patton said.

Committee members also discussed a $3,000 matching grant awarded by Maryland Coastal Bays for interpretive signage at the park, and meeting with county recreation and parks officials during future meetings.

The committee is scheduled to meet again on March 8 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. A committee tour of Berlin Falls park is scheduled for Feb. 11 at 1 p.m.