A major decision, one that should have long-range ramifications for Ocean City and the surrounding area, was made at City Hall this week.
Presented with a number of options for the expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the Ocean City Mayor and Council chose the most aggressive. It was the right decision. The option selected encloses the existing bayfront deck and expands it to the west and south, creating 20,000 square feet of new ballroom space, and converts the western portion of the existing ballroom to a fixed-seat auditorium capable of seating 1,200 people.
According to a report presented this week, the council’s favored expansion project is estimated to increase attendee days by as much as 19 percent; generate at least $23.6 million in economic impact; and potentially $2 million in fiscal impact.
In our view, any concerns over approving a $10.4 million project, $5.7 million is Ocean City’s responsibility, in these difficult financial times are dismissed by the fact the project will be funded even with the lowering of the food tax by half of a percent and through the partnership with the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Aside from the financial issues, there’s the separate matter of the need and desire for a performing arts center of some type. A lot has been said locally, both positive and negative, about these kinds of venues in recent years, including statements about how much money they require to operate and that they are typically money-losing ventures. All that may be true, in some cases, but this is about the big picture here.
Adding this type of facility to Ocean City will help businesses and likely bring new visitors to the town in vulnerable parts of the calendar. For years, the Ocean City area’s shoulder seasons were slowly growing, thanks to the booming golfing and real estate markets coinciding with timely special events of interest. That momentum has slowed over the last two years, leaving business owners worried in the cold months about the health and longevity of their businesses.
This week’s display of support from the business community is noteworthy. It’s rare to see such a diverse group of business owners on the same page. Each that spoke at City Hall this week talked eloquently about the need for a performing arts venue, specifically, and an enlarged space at the convention center, generally.
This week’s decision is significant, although we will stop short of coining this any kind of local "economic stimulus." That’s just an awkward and hackneyed reference these days, but the reasoning behind in it is valid. This expansion, specifically the addition of a performing arts center, is going to help Ocean City. The fact that the food tax will decline is also a bonus because it will make the town a little less expensive on some fronts.
It will likely be a minimum of two years before this performing arts center is hosting guests, but this could become an appealing venue in the mid-Atlantic market. The wait allows the city and interested private parties time to figure out how to run this entertainment center and to pursue contracts with promoters and regional venues to establish relationships that should bring in popular acts.
Governments everywhere are making financial cuts, and that’s the responsible thing to do. However, there is a fine line between responsibly reducing spending and being overly scrooge-like. Elected officials have a challenging balancing act ahead of them across this country. They need to cut costs because the amount of money coming in is on the decline, but it would be wrong and foolish to stop all large expenditures in the vein of belt tightening.
The city needs to move forward as much as possible when the situation presents itself, while closely examining all items in individual departments, and this convention center expansion is an exciting opportunity to better the resort and surrounding area.