Convention Center Expansion Proceeds On Different Fronts

OCEAN CITY – Resort business leaders were in Annapolis yesterday to testify on a bill that would extend a funding mechanism for the proposed expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center while other efforts to expand the facility continue.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan told Economic Development Committee (EDC) members on Wednesday a contingent of resort officials was going to the capital on Thursday to testify on behalf of House Bill 1064, which, if approved, would enable the local governing body of a code county, in this case Worcester, to impose a tax on food and beverages in a resort community if all or a portion of the increase was dedicated to the expansion of a convention center in the community. A hearing on the bill, introduced by Delegates James Mathias and Norm Conway was scheduled for yesterday at 1 p.m.

For years, there has been an additional 1 cent per $1 tacked on the sales tax rate in Ocean City to help pay the town’s portion for the most recent expansion of the convention center 11 years ago. The supplementary sale tax is set to expire in 2015, but with Ocean City’s convention center possibly slated for another major expansion in the next few years, House Bill 1064 would provide a mechanism for extending the funding source, according to Meehan.

“This bill would increase from $15 million to $20 million the amount of revenue we derive from the sales tax, which would allow us to proceed with the study of the convention center expansion and begin drawing designs,” he said. “It basically allows us to expend the money from the one-cent tax.”

The last major expansion of the convention center was completed in 1997 and already the facility has outgrown its ability to draw and retain some of the larger conventions and events. The town has commissioned a private firm to study the expansion.

“The last expansion was completed 11 years ago and it’s hard to believe we’ve outgrown that building already,” said Meehan. “We all know how important expanding the facility is. Everybody in this room that is in business knows when something is going on at the convention center.”

While resort leaders were testifying in Annapolis yesterday on the funding mechanism bill, other activities related to the convention center expansion continued to nudge forward. Convention Center Director of Sales and Marketing Fred Wise on Wednesday told the EDC the expansion study was ongoing and urged business leaders to cooperate by providing visitor data.

“We’re encouraging EDC members to participate,” he said. “The information is confidential and will be used to present to the Stadium Authority when the discussions of expanding the convention center come up. We hope it’s favorable.”

Wise said the convention center has a proven track record of attracting and retaining conventions and events and told EDC members the proposed expansion would only enhance that.

“Ocean City is great for retaining conventions,” he said. “Once we get them, they tend to come back year after year. I think we’ve lost about three in the last 10 years or so.”

In the meantime, discussions continued this week about including a performing arts center in the proposed expansion of the convention center. Meehan told EDC members this week the idea was under consideration.

“It would expand our ability to provide concerts and other entertainment at the convention center,” he said. “It would only enhance what we’re trying to accomplish there.”