Center Director Sees Growth In Competitive Arts

OCEAN CITY — Just six weeks into his new post, Rick Hamilton is laying out his plan to help take the Roland E. Powell Convention Center to the next level.

In an economic climate where businesses are vigorously competing for a lesser market share, Ocean City’s new convention center director is looking to another form of competition to help increase the status quo and keep the expanded convention center as full as possible, as often as possible.

At last week’s Tourism Commission meeting, Convention Center Director Rick Hamilton spoke of his desire to not only increase the number of conventions held in the building, but also spoke of growing the number of events that fall under the title “competitive arts.”

“There’s a lot of similarities from where I came from [Daytona Beach], to Ocean City, and one of the things that were really successful for us down there is the competitive arts,” said Hamilton. “Most families end up scheduling their vacation at the same time as the event itself, whether it’s a sporting event, a cheerleading competition or the very popular martial arts competitions that we are seeing. In a time when a lot of corporate events are scaling back and sending less people and/or staying for less days, the competitive arts are still coming and they are still spending money.”

Hamilton estimates that the competitive arts probably makes up about 5-10 percent of the current schedule for the convention center, and he noted that his goal is to try and raise that number to at least 30 percent.

“I’ve already talked to our sales staff, and they are trying to figure out a way to make those contacts and draw the people here,” said Hamilton. “The problem is, however, that there isn’t one big organization to contact, you have to contact all the smaller organizations individually, so it’s all a part of reevaluating how you are doing business and attracting new business in these economic times.”

As the current trend in the resort seems to indicate families are staying fewer days, usually toward the end of the week and into the weekend, Hamilton said he is trying to fill the center in the early part of the week.

“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday there isn’t much happening here, and that’s why people may drive by and see the parking lot predominantly empty,” said Hamilton, “but Thursday through Sunday for the rest of 2010 and 2011 are pretty much full, as there’s only two or three weekends that are totally open. We may have to look to start filling the meeting rooms with a bunch of smaller events on those days, rather than trying to go for the one huge event that fills the whole building.”

Hamilton says he is still learning the proverbial ropes of how things work in Ocean City, but has made a few observations, including the fact millions of people are within a few hours drive of the resort and that Ocean City has long prided itself on drawing in families.

“Everyone I talk to says that Ocean City is a family resort, and that’s who the target audience is and I think that’s the right audience to shoot for,” said Hamilton. “I think the competitive arts is the right strategy to have in that respect as these events draw the entire family and even the extended family to watch these events.”

In Daytona, Hamilton headed up a Pop Warner Football tournament that drew upwards of 6,000 kids, all vying for the title of “Best in the Southeast Region.” He said that in some cases, if the convention center improves it’s accessibility and technological capabilities, some of these events could grow to the point where national television stations will come and broadcast live from the event.

As for the upcoming expansion, Hamilton says that the addition of the bayfront ballroom is “crucial” for the town to stay in the forefront of offering a top-notch experience and facility to its customers. He notes that the industry is very competitive and staying ahead of the proverbial field in technology and aesthetics is vital.

Hamilton also noted that the proposed 1,200-seat performing arts center would be a great addition for the town, noting it might be the most successful if used as a limited-multi purpose room as well as a performing arts auditorium.

“In today’s world, you have to be up to date, technologically savvy, and at the forefront of how to market and advertise your product,” said Hamilton. “The performing arts center would be a great addition and would give us the opportunity to offer a great room and something new to market to our customers, but I think it needs to be more than just strictly a performing arts center. I’m very much interested in doing it right now for a culmination of reasons, but mostly, because I think it would fill a void in this community for the arts.”

Hamilton says that the performing arts center could be an essential “ace in the pocket” of his sales team and something that could draw in theatrical or musical concerts, improve corporate conventions and even be the room used at the end of a competitive arts event.

“If you put this in, it could even be something that you could use for the finals of the competitive arts like those cheerleading events,” said Hamilton. “Having it a fixed seat auditorium on a big stage changes the whole dynamic and atmosphere than having it in a flat and perhaps cold exhibit space. It would make for a whole different experience.”