Friday, November 28–Council To Discuss Conv. Center Upgrades

OCEAN CITY – Though many strong cases have been made against expansions to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, reports this week hinted at proposed upgrades to the existing building rather than a “bricks and mortar” expansion.

The Town of Ocean City, just a month into its “spending diet,” has been busy “trimming the fat” on many town expenditures. On Dec. 9, the City Council is scheduled to hear a proposal from City Engineer Terry McGean and City Manager Dennis Dare proposing upgrades to the OC Convention Center, despite some grumbling from council members, who might be quick to snub any plans for a multi-million dollar expansion to the building itself.

“As far as I know, I won’t be making a case to expand the building, said City Manager Dare, “but there is money available from the food tax that could upgrade the usage of the existing building.”

Some council members, like Joe Hall for instance, were quite vocal in conveying their disdain for any planned expansion of the building, saying at a past meeting, “most of the time I drive by, the parking lot is almost two-thirds empty, so why should we expand it now?”

Dare said that there were some things left out of the last expansion to the building in order to cut costs, such as energy efficient lighting in the ballroom, a entry/pass security system and some other aesthetic items such as a curtain on the stage. Though some of these changes may not seem imperative at first glance, Dare said the food and beverage capabilities as well as the exhibit area need to be upgraded along with technological improvements to cater to the audio/visual needs of the numerous conventions that use the center annually.

“There’s a shopping list of things that we could do to improve the current building and the report will show that we have enough business coming into the Convention Center to necessitate those changes. We are trying to rethink its usage and improve its efficiency for the users of the Convention Center,” Dare said.

The “study” that Dare is referring to is from the town’s 50/50 partner in the Convention Center, the Maryland Stadium Authority, which will reportedly be presented next month. For years, there has been an additional one-cent “food tax” tacked on the sales tax rate per dollar 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 Dare alluded to the fact that money from the food tax would be the funding source for any upgrades or expansion.

The last major expansion of the convention center was completed in 1997, and many believe the facility has outgrown its ability to draw and retain some of the larger conventions and events.

Tourism Director Mike Noah said at a recent Tourism Commission meeting that the number of conventions scheduled to travel to Ocean City and use the Roland E. Powell Convention Center “remains the same”, however he did say that the number of people attending those conventions could drop.

“We haven’t lost any business so far, but they have. Due to the economy or gas prices or a variance of other things, fewer people are signing up or planning to travel to their convention in Ocean City,” he said. “Unfortunately, it isn’t on our end, and there really isn’t anything we can do about that, as we can only book the convention, but can’t control how many people attend.”

Dare added that the convention center is limited in its capabilities for visitors and exhibitors, especially technologically, saying, “We currently have the minimum that is expected of a convention center.”