OCEAN CITY – A petition opposing the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) addition to the convention center was discontinued this week by a local citizens group amid claims the town has not disclosed relevant information about future bookings at the facility.
Tony Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), last month received approval for a petition singling out an $8.5 million bond to fund the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. The PAC is part of a $12.7 bond ordinance. The remaining $4.23 million of the ordinance is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new beach patrol headquarters and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.
The PAC project is under contract between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs. The two-story, 1,200-seat auditorium is currently under construction under the auspices of contractor Whiting Turner.
The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
The local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverage purchases in Ocean City is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
By charter, a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate and must obtain at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election or 1,226 signatures in this case. If the required signatures are verified, the bond ordinance pertaining to the PAC can be placed on the next ballot.
According to City Solicitor Guy Ayres the petition was approved Oct. 11 and the deadline was Wednesday, Nov. 20. Christ is asserting the deadline is Dec. 1 due to Ayres’ delay in contemplating the approval of the petition, and if it comes down to it he will take the town to court over the misconception of the deadline.
Christ sent Ayres a letter on Tuesday stating, “OCTSJ believes the City has failed to disclose to the citizens of Ocean City the known losses of existing Conventioneer business due to reduction in exhibition space resulting from the construction of the PAC. This loss could result in a significant unannounced revenue decline in fiscal year 2015.”
The letter furthers, “We respectfully request that the city promptly disclose to the people of Ocean City the extent of losses of Convention business owing to the loss of exhibit Hall C reducing Exhibiters space from 63,410 sq. ft. to 45,770 sq. ft. We respectfully request disclosure that Epic Cheerleaders … has canceled their three year contract and have only signed up for one year [February, March and April of 2014] … We respectfully request full disclosure of others that are believed to have informed the City that they will not return. Those losses may not be as large as Epic Cheerleaders; however that could represent significant additional revenue loss.”
The letter concludes, “OCTSJ has discontinued its petition solicitation until the people of Ocean City receive full disclosure. In accord with Section C-411 of the Ocean City Charter, which only allows for reductions of the 40 day solicitation period when the petitioners fail to submit a timely petition, we will resume our remaining days after the City has fully disclosed the status of all Conventioneers so the people in Ocean City can know the truth.”
Ayres responded to Christ on Wednesday morning, writing, “Your statement that you are suspending the petition drive is your decision to make for whatever reason you want to ascribe, however it does not suspend or extend the deadline for submission. If attempted to be filed after the deadline it will not be accepted.”
On Wednesday afternoon, City Clerk Kelly Allmond responded to Christ’s requests and said the facts do not support his claims.
“In fact, the City has never possessed a three-year contract with Epic. Furthermore, the City does not possess any documentation from Epic, or any other user, that states their intent not to return to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center as a result of the changes.”
A hard copy of the email submitted by Epic Cheerleaders disclosing the cancelation of a three-year contract could not been obtained by The Dispatch this week. Christ claims he has lost the document. However, he said City Manager David Recor submitted the email to OCTSJ member Herb Pawlukewicz, who in turn sent it to Christ.
“I have never sent an email to Herb Pawlukewicz,” Recor said on Wednesday afternoon.
Recor furthered it would be impossible to send such an email since a three-year contract with Epic Cheerleaders does not exist.
At the conclusion of the Mayor and City Council legislative session on Monday evening, Christ voiced most of the assertions stated in the letter submitted on Tuesday addressed to Ayres.
Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino was in attendance to address Christ’s concerns. Noccolino started by stating he has no knowledge of a three-year contract being canceled with Epic Cheerleaders.
“I do know we have just received a one-year contract [with Epic Cheerleaders] with intention of signing 2015 and 2016 as soon as we can get that out to them,” Noccolino said. “They are very excited about moving into the PAC and I can tell you why. We met with them just this past spring, in May, with the mayor, city manager, architects and construction manager. We made some revisions to the PAC, not only to appease Epic Cheerleaders but also to appease Star Power [talent competition], Trinity Motivation [BWW Management Operating Committee conference], and another group.”
Noccolino added he has already spoken to no less than 20 other groups that have expressed interesting in coming Ocean City. The Town of Ocean City has also committed to hosting a number of shows in the new PAC, such as the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra to play a series of concerts.