NEW FOR MONDAY: OC Convention Center’s New Space Celebrated

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OCEAN CITY – The curtains were drawn on the Roland E. Powell Convention Center’s new ballroom and exhibit space last week as city officials and guests gathered to take in the space and its beautiful view.

Last Thursday the Town of Ocean City celebrated the completion of the first phase of the convention center’s renovation project exhibiting the new Bay Front Ballroom and Trimper Dockside Exhibit Hall with a ribbon cutting and opening ceremony.

The Bay Front Ballroom is on the building’s second floor with its entire back wall covered in floor-to-ceiling windows as it faces the bay.

Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino joined the facility’s staff last spring when Rick Hamilton resigned. He came to Ocean City from serving as the executive director of Valley Forge, Pa., convention center.

As Phase I of the convention center’s expansion was well underway by the time he arrived on the scene, Noccolino served as a communication line between the construction company, Whiting-Turner, and the building’s existing clients and staff.

“Obviously, when you have construction comes noise, and there was a few disruptions but … where we didn’t lose one client,” he said. “Most of the time they were very understanding. We had a couple folks that were a little distraught, understandably so, but it all worked out.”

Existing and future convention center bookings are looking forward to capturing the building’s new bay view. Noccolino said the new ballroom would be perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner of groups up to 2,400 people. The next best purpose would be for a tradeshow.

“When clients, both existing and new … the minute they walk into the room it’s ‘oh, ah, wow’,” he said.

Currently, the most eastern portion of the ballroom is included as available space but once Phase II of the project begins that quarter of the room will be divided off and used as balcony seating in the new performing art center. With that portion of the ballroom shut down, the space will still seat up to 2,000.

The Trimper Dockside Exhibit Hall is directly below the ballroom on the first floor and is y similar in size and also takes advantage of the bay view.

“It’s amazing … wait until you see the view,” Councilwoman Mary Knight said as everyone waited for the big reveal. “It is so exciting and look how pretty the room is. It is such a plus for the Town of Ocean City. I can see grand parties here.”

At 4:30 p.m., the blinds began to rise and the room took in the bay and the horizon as the sun began to set.

At this time, Mayor Rick Meehan came to the podium and said the only other time this view could be captured in the convention center’s history, dating to 1970, was when both doors to the freight elevator were open simultaneously.

“We have come a long way,” the mayor said pointing out the last expansion took place in 1996.

According to the mayor, a few groups have already used the new space and have only had terrific responses to the improvements made.

“It just makes it look like the destination they came too and that is Ocean City, Md.,” he said.

Meehan reminded the crowd the last time the Mayor and City Council and city officials and staff, as well as Gov. Martin O’Malley, all met at the convention center for a ceremony was in 2011 when the ground breaking for Phase I took place.

Meehan took the opportunity to recognize the support of city staff, employees of the convention center, Whiting-Turner, Worcester County Commissioners, members of the Eastern Shore delegation, the Performing Arts Committee and the town’s partners, including the Hotel Motel Restaurant Association, and the Chamber of Commerce.

“Everybody who has stood behind us and recognized the significance of this expansion and what it means to the Town of Ocean City to keep current and keep moving forward,” he said. “We have to keep current and up to date, our goals are to keep ahead and move forward.”

The 32,000-square-foot, first-phase expansion that began in August of 2011 was a $9 million expense with $5 million paid by the Town of Ocean City with a half of a cent on the resort’s food tax rate dedicated to the project and the remaining $4.3 million paid by the state through its Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA).

Phase II is anticipated to begin next fall and will include a 1,200-seat performing arts auditorium, which will replace the convention center’s existing stage, the first-floor exhibit hall and a portion of the second-floor ballroom. It will include two-tiers of fixed seating and is expected to attract major shows, concerts, plays and other performances.

The second phase will cost an estimated $14 million with a similar cost-sharing formula in place. In August, the state’s Board of Public Works approved MSA’s contribution to the second phase of the convention center expansion.

Already, the convention center expansion is being considered a potential economic windfall for Ocean City and its state partner. The estimated new tax revenue generated is expected to come in at a range of $1.1 million to $1.6 million annually.

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