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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Berlin starts ball rolling with Tyson project dreams

When Berlin became cool, many of its residents began daydreaming about new projects and possibilities that increased exposure could offer.
One particular sore thumb in the community stuck out: the former Tyson’s Chicken plant on Old Ocean City Boulevard.
The 16-acre property, owned by District 1 Councilmember Troy Purnell, has been dormant for more than a decade. A drab, 55,000 square foot building with a dilapidated office and warehouse space dominates the entrance, masking large ponds, fields and woodlands behind it.
In April, a blueprint depicting a sprawling “Tyson’s Park,” developed by Showell-based Vista Design Inc. suddenly appeared in community coffee shops and taverns, then just as quickly vanished. The source of the design was not immediately clear, and both Vista and Purnell refused to comment at the time, but the seed was planted.
The ambitious design featured an indoor and outdoor recreation center, outdoor skateboard park, biking and walking/jogging paths, fishing areas, a fairground and an amphitheater.
District 2 Councilmember Lisa Hall was an outspoken supporter of the plan.
“All of this could be used for indoor skateboarding, basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, walking – it’s there, it just needs to be revitalized,” she said.
Hall suggested the town commission a feasibility study and develop the property in phases. Although the property lists for $2.7 million dollars, Hall hinted the town could have it for just under $2 million.
“It’s a fire sale considering what they purchased this property for and what they wanted for it 10-11 years ago,” she said. “With the slots money, we don’t have to do a bond or anything; we could probably pay this off in five years and then go after grant money and utilize town staff, town resources, local resources; we have a good community that likes to work and get together.”
Business owners in the nearby area voiced their support, including Burley Oak owner Bryan Brushmiller.
“Ocean City has Northside Park – why don’t we have a Northside Park?” he said. “I think what we’re talking about is a beneficial asset for the town of Berlin that right now is a liability. I think it would be a great asset for Berlin and it would give the kids something to do.”
Chris Denny, owner of Cheers, agreed.
“I think it’s a great use for that piece of property,” he said. “It’s just another great draw for the town. The amphitheater looks really good, and the fishing and walking paths look like a great activity that you could walk to from town.”
Major Gee Williams remained slightly more pragmatic.
“So many people have so many good ideas and I think that’s another great one,” Williams said. “A lot of these ideas are big and personally I think it’s an exciting idea, but what I would like to do is to convene the community to get their guidance and advice on a whole bunch of options and opportunities that we have and then see where they fall.”
Hall drafted a letter to Town Administrator Laura Allen on July 21, requesting the town’s ethics committee meet to discuss purchasing the project from Purnell.
“This property has the potential to provide amenities to our community such as an amphitheater, skate park, recreational facility, nature trails, and office space for a non-profit organization, etc.,” the letter read. “I personally, do not believe that we should take a pass on this opportunity.”
The committee met in August, found no liability, and Williams said the project could “become a very high priority in September” during the strategic planning sessions expected to take place.
Public and municipal support seemed to be culminating when, inexplicably, the project seemed to vanish in thin air. News of a mammoth, shimmering recreation and entertainment complex evaporated, and the property continued to remain dormant.
Then, on Oct. 27, an otherwise sleepy mayor and council meeting unexpectedly reignited the debate.
Normal business during the session lasted less than an hour – record time – but when the mayor asked for public comments the room swelled, and Berlin resident Beth Gourley quietly stepped to the front and asked to speak to the council.
Gourley said the crowd behind her had come to ask for a new skate park.
Williams said the town was “actively looking for a place that would accommodate skateboarding, ideally on a year-round basis,” but had not settled on a location.
Gourley asked about the potential of the Tyson plant, but Williams declined to give specifics.
“Once somebody finds out the government is interested in a piece of property the price goes through the roof and we can’t buy it at all,” he said. “That price, fortunately, has been coming down and we’ll see if it comes down any further compared to where it was a few years ago.”
Matt Dove, owner of Punk Rock Fish Studio and a former professional skater, gave an impassioned speech on the potential of a large facility.
Dove staged a mini music festival on the grounds during the summer, drawing hundreds of skateboard enthusiasts, and hosted similar functions in prior years, working with Dew Tour personnel in Ocean City.
“[People] already know Berlin from what we’ve done at the Tyson plant in the past couple years,” Dove said. ”The top [skateboarding] professionals already know Berlin – the town of Berlin – where it is, what it is and everything about it. They like coming out here. They love this town. They ask about it all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if the town could coordinate with what we do and have an actual skate park there so it’s legitimate?”
Patricia Dufendach, a member of the Parks Commission, suggested tying the effort into parks activities, and urged the public to attend the commission’s next regular meeting.
Then, 16-year-old Chad Joines made a final plea to include room for bicycles as well as skateboards.
“We have an abandoned factory that isn’t doing any good. I’ve been inside of there. The place looks fine,” he said. “All you have to do is clean it up and add a few things.”
The call for a new public park continued on Nov. 4 during the parks commission.
Resident Benjamin Smith accused Berlin officials of dragging their feet on the project, and called for a temporary alternative to the massive Tyson plan.
“That’s at least two years out if that Tyson plant goes through – at least,” he said.
Dufendach urged patience, although she admitted to her enchantment with Dove’s proposal for a large-scale facility.
“He sold it so well … that I don’t think anyone’s going to be satisfied with less,” she said. “He made me want the whole big picture. Anything less than that now makes me feel cheapened.”
A Nov. 13 story in the Bayside Gazette examined the Maryland Department of the Environment report on the Tyson property. The department designated the facility a “Voluntary Cleanup Program” site in 2005, effectively making the property transfer easier and redevelopment more likely for commercial or industrial use.
A public park, or a residential property, however, would have to submit a new application with the department.
“Proposed uses such as recreational or residential, when compared to a commercial use, are subject to a more stringent cleanup standard with greater environmental assessments and/or protections,” department spokesperson Jay Apperson said.
Apperson added that any potential buyer would likely have to address the wastewater treatment lagoons on the property.
In late November, Vista broke its silence when Marketing Director Mike Goldberg agreed to speak with the Bayside Gazette about the merits of the park.
The company developed the Tyson’s Park concept, he revealed, “to hopefully get the town to take interest in it.”
Goldberg said was not aware of the status of any negotiations involving the property or its development. Goldberg also said he did not have any estimate of the cost of such a project, a hang-up raised by some the project’s detractors.
Conceptual designs like the Tyson plan are a “typical” part of the process, according to Goldberg, who said the design was “all about Berlin.”
“It’s not about the property owner, it’s not about Vista Design, it’s about what would ultimately work best for [the town],” he said. “There’s many other possible uses for that property. This is just one that we feel would make it desirable for the town of Berlin to acquire the land. There is also always the possibility that a private buyer is out there.”
Goldberg did not believe the property had the potential for residential use due its location near the intersection of two major highways.
“It would certainly be a highly visibility location for commercial use, but having a park like that could really be a nucleus for redevelopment of industrial areas, and because of its visibility it just has an enormous amount of potential,” he said.
If the town does move on developing the property into a recreation complex, construction of the various components would likely come in phases.
Ivy Wells, Berlin’s new economic and community development director, has experience writing grants for recreation facilities on a slightly smaller scale and could play a vital role in raising public money for such a project.
Speaking hypothetically, Wells said state and federal grants could continuously fund a project like Tyson’s Park.
“You have to use up old grant money before you can apply for new grant money,” she said. “They really want to see progress and they want to see their money put to good use, so if you’re using the money correctly and expediently they’ll see that you’re staying on point and give you more money when you apply for money to further the project.”
On Dec. 24, the Bayside Gazette reported that a new player in the ongoing quest for a park had emerged, as Berlin resident Lisa Cherivtch appeared to be galvanizing the disparate factions.
Cherivtch, who moved to Berlin in June, said her 8-year-old son and his friends often skated in the street.
“We have a fairly safe road. I live on Jefferson Street where the speed limit it about 10 miles an hour, but I see kids on Main Street and some of the other streets where the speed limit is a lot higher,” she said. “They need a place to go where they can actually skate.”
Cherivtch helped pull together a group that included Dove, Gourley and Smith, along with Ocean City business owners David Leverton of Get Gnarly skateboard shop and Jim Solomon of Swirled World. Veteran skater Pat Truitt and Blacksmith restaurant owner Justine Zegna also apparently joined the cause.
“Planning and fundraising need to be the highest priority at this moment,” she said, adding that she plans to create a nonprofit group to raise funds and help with the planning process of the potential new park.
The popularity of events like the Dew Tour, Cherivtch said, are proof of the economic potential skateboarding culture could bring to a community like Berlin
“Skateboarding is a hugely popular sport in this area and is continuing to attract more interest,” she said. “In communities with a large and growing population of skaters, skate parks should be just as natural an addition to a community as a basketball court or a tennis court.”
It is unclear whether the Tyson property will come into play if or when the town reveals formal plans to build a new park, but the debate over the property clearly served as a diving board for ideas.
If Berlin chooses to spend money on something resembling the Tyson’s Park blueprint, it would likely require millions in grants, not to mention infrastructure improvements and new residential and commercial construction, including hotels and accommodations.
The town is clearly on the rise, and a major recreation complex that plays to residents and pulls in new visitors has the potential to take that success to the next level, but civic involvement is paramount. The mayor and council have repeatedly expressed their support for a recreation complex – if public demand is there.
If demand diminishes, or the people decide their priorities have shifted elsewhere, the old Tyson plant will likely remain dormant, drab, and dilapidated, sticking out like a sore thumb in an otherwise cool small town.