Conversion of the old BP gas station property into a landscaped park was the first part of a makeover for the Ninth Street-Route 52 Causeway artery. By Donald WittkowskiThe gas-to-grass transformation that will turn Ocean City’s main corridor into a more inviting gateway is finally underway.The redevelopment strategy calls for converting three former gas station sites along the Ninth Street artery into green space.Construction work on the first park has begun, months after the blighted old BP gas station that once stood there was torn down. A decorative brick wall and metal fence have been added as the first part of the property’s makeover into a quaint park.Motorists get a glimpse of the work as they head out of town at the foot of the Ninth Street-Route 52 Causeway bridge.The city bought the former BP property last year from its private owner for $475,000. In a related move, the city is in the midst of acquiring an old Getty gas station site next door to the former BP.City spokesman Doug Bergen said Monday that the deal for the former Getty site should be completed soon. The purchase price has not yet been disclosed, although the city made a $650,000 offer for the property earlier this year to its private owner, Trinetra Realty Holdings.The city had originally hoped to convert the old BP and Getty sites into green space for the start of the 2017 summer tourism season. Those plans were delayed when it took longer than expected to acquire the Getty property.The hulking remains of the old Getty gas station were demolished months ago. Just like the old BP site next door, the former Getty property is currently a dirt lot.According to plans, the Getty property will be combined with the old BP site to create a swath of green space stretching from the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue to the base of the Route 52 Causeway bridge.“Having green space to welcome our guests instead of abandoned gas stations is very important,” Bergen said in an interview earlier this year.A backhoe and other construction machinery are being used to build the park.The project will be modeled after the Mark Soifer Park, which is tucked away in the corner of Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue across the street from City Hall.Soifer Park, named in honor of the city’s former public relations director, is decorated with grass, trees, benches and a brick walkway. A gazebo and an old Ocean City lifeguard boat serve as the centerpieces of the park.The old BP and Getty sites offer a larger chunk of land than Soifer Park. The landscaped lots would be elevated by 2 to 3 feet to help protect them from flooding. The project will also include new parking for the adjacent Revere Place neighborhood.Bergen said the decorative brick retaining wall being built in front of the new park is part of broader plans to elevate the Ninth Street corridor to protect it from flooding during coastal storms.Meanwhile, the final part of the city’s beautification plan for the Ninth Street corridor involves a former Exxon gas station site now owned by the Keller Williams real estate company.The Keller Williams property is located at the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue, on the opposite side of the street of the old BP and Getty sites. Keller Williams, which demolished the old Exxon station months ago, wants to build an office complex on the land.The city, however, is looking to seize the Keller Williams property through its power of eminent domain and build a park there.The city also wants to acquire this site along the Ninth Street corridor for a park, but the Keller Williams real estate firm has proposed building an office complex on the property.The city and Keller Williams owner Paul Chiolo are locked in a legal battle over control of the land. City Council has approved a $650,000 funding package to buy the site. The two sides failed to reach an agreement for a buyout, so the dispute will be decided by the courts.With talks at an impasse, the city has filed for a “declaration of taking” to get court permission to condemn the land. A court hearing had been scheduled for Dec. 4, but was postponed. Bergen said the hearing will likely be held in January.