State Board To Rule On Center Expansion Funding

OCEAN CITY — The time has finally come for the final decision from the state on whether the Roland E. Powell Convention Center is ready for an upgrade.

Timing seems to have been the main tripping point for the town-approved convention center renovation, as they have been waiting on the decision from the state’s Board of Public Works, who will decide on Jan. 6 whether or not to allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to partner with the town of Ocean City to fund $4.8 million of the $10.4 million project.

“We knew that with everything going on in Annapolis concerning the recession, that we needed to wait before we went before the Board of Public Works,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I am confident, however, that we will get the answer that we are looking for next week.”

Last February, the City Council voted 5-2 to move forward with a proposal that would not only double the amount of space in the 41st Street convention center, but would also transform one of the main exhibit halls into a 1,200-fixed seat performing arts center. In the process, the council also voted to cut the food and beverage tax, which essentially acts as the funding source to pay back the project in half from 1 percent.

“Any way you look at it, we are still gaining 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, and with the lowering of the food tax, it makes it an even better plan,” said Meehan. “I have been a huge supporter of getting a performing arts center in Ocean City, and I think the state will see the project as a revenue generator, and it will be a great thing to have for not only the visitors of Ocean City, but also the residents. We can’t forget to do something good for the town that will be fun for our whole community.”

Next Wednesday, Meehan and several other town officials will travel to Annapolis and go before the Board of Public Works and state the case for the planned project, which could take anywhere from 20 to 24 months to complete, according to City Engineer Terry McGean.

City Manager Dennis Dare said on Tuesday, however, that even though the town has waited almost a year to get the final concurrence from the state, the project will not be breaking ground immediately.

“We have basic renderings and plans for the expansion, and we have the architect hired for the project [Salisbury-based Becker Morgan Group],” said Dare, “but we have to wait to do the full design of the project until after the money has been allotted and the project green lighted by our partner, the Maryland Stadium Authority. I will say, though, that if it gets approved on Jan. 6, we will be getting to work on Jan. 7 with the design.”

The plan, as approved by the City Council last February, includes not only enclosing the existing bay front deck, but also expands it to the west and the south, achieving 20,000 square feet of new space for exhibits and dining, as well as $600,000 in energy and heating efficiency improvements that will be paid for by a stimulus grant, as well as the aforementioned 1,200-fixed seat performing arts center.

“This expansion is virtually the equivalent of the existing main ballroom,” said McGean, “and it will enable us to convert a portion of the existing ballroom to a fixed-seat auditorium while maintaining a full 20,000 square feet of exhibit space in a single room.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority and the town of Ocean City have acted as partners before during the 1995 expansion of the Convention Center, and that fact, coupled with conversations Meehan has had with state officials, has him feeling hopeful that the drive home from Annapolis will be a happy one next week.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to increase our value as a convention destination and our amenities that we offer to our residents and visitors,” said Meehan. “I think it will help us capitalize on the visitors who are already here, help to bring in new ones and help to build up the shoulder months in the resort. I think the state realizes that the project will bring in revenue for the state, so I’m very hopeful that things will go well and we can finally get this project going.”