Public forum on downtown improvements focuses on signage, landscaping

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Former mayoral candidate Michael Hinchman shares vision of the future

OCEAN CITY – Saying it’s the time and he has the time, former mayoral candidate Michael Hinchman led a public forum Thursday night at the Ocean City Free Public Library, soliciting ideas for improvements to the city’s struggling downtown.

Hinchman focused his agenda on signage, landscaping and the perimeter of the city annex building at Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue. By the time the two-hour meeting ended, he had firm commitments from a mix of downtown merchants and residents to walk the streets with him early next week to assess the feasibility of implementing visual improvements to the area.

Targeting Asbury Avenue between Sixth and 11th streets and Ninth Street from the foot of the bridge to Asbury, Hinchman proposed low-cost projects such as lighting and flags that would have an immediate impact on revitalizing the downtown’s tired appearance.

“You only get a new $400 million bridge once in a lifetime, and Stainton’s turns over once every 25 years,” he said, referencing the ambitious new causeway into town and the 100-year-old department store that is being transformed into a 50-plus-unit co-op. “We’re coming to a tipping point.”

Time is of the essence. With Memorial Day less than three months away, the audience of merchants, residents and politicians were urged to seize this opportunity and make the most of what promises to be an exciting season for the city as the completion of bridge is expected to bring new visitors to town.

After taking suggestions and comments from the crowd, many of which addressed longer-term and costlier improvements to parking and biking issues, Hinchman invited Mayor Jay Gillian and City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo to speak.

“If you really want to do this, we have to do it together,” Gillian said, after outlining his plans for the corner of Ninth and Asbury, which include a pocket park, an idea that won endorsement for other spots along the avenue, too.

“If we’re going to get people to park on Central Avenue and walk over to Asbury, we have to get people to clean up the back of their lots,” Dattilo said, mentioning that was a pet peeve of his.

Tom Heist presented a slide show of city downtowns from across the country, highlighting gateways, bike racks at street ends, different approaches to angled parking, sidewalk cafes, and landscaping. Some of these same ideas could be implemented in Ocean City, he said.

Hinchman concluded the meeting with an invitation to meet again in two weeks. Those interested in downtown signage issues are meeting at 8 a.m. Monday at the annex, those interested in landscaping are meeting at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the annex. Both groups will stroll the streets with an eye toward “punching up the downtown,” as business owner Winnie Piriano said.

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