Mayor Gets Snippy On Center Process

OCEAN CITY — With the first official resolution of the New Year, the town has approved borrowing the money for expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, but the mayor reminded everyone that the full plan does still include the 1,200-seat performing arts center.

Mayor Rick Meehan gave a not-so-subtle reminder to the City Council about what the body had approved concerning the convention center expansion last February and essentially called out to any member of the council to make a motion that would change that direction.

“On Feb. 24, 2009, several options were presented to this council and we voted 5-2 to move forward with ‘option A’ which included the 20,000-square-foot expansion to the western portion of the building and the installation of a 1,200 fixed seat auditorium, while cutting the 1 percent food and beverage tax in half,” said Meehan. “That was what was voted on, that’s what the community expects, that’s what the business people were here to support and that’s the way that we should proceed unless someone’s going to make a motion to do something different.”

On Jan. 6, the state Board of Public Works unanimously approved the involvement of the Maryland Stadium Authority to partner with the town of Ocean City to add 20,000 square feet to the western portion of the building, in the sum of up to $4.8 million.

What the vote did not include however, was the approximate $1.6 million portion to fund the 1,200-seat performing arts center that will be created by converting almost half of the existing main ballroom at the convention center.

Town officials had planned to go back to the Board of Public Works in a year or two to ask for the Maryland Stadium Authority’s continued partnership on that portion of the project, but decided to hold off on asking for the entirety of the project on Jan. 6 due to the tough economic climate and the desire from some at the local and state level for feasibility studies on the merits of a performing arts center in the resort.

Since that unanimous ruling by the Board of Public Works however, the two members of the Ocean City council that voted against the convention center expansion, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas, have rekindled their arguments against the approved performing arts center.

“I am going to vote for this because I think it’s in the best interest of growth for the town,” said Joe Hall, “but I am not convinced about the performing arts center and I hope to be convinced and see a business plan for it as the additional use of that space.”

Meehan’s rather biting comments seemed to be directed at those two dissenting members of council, who sat quiet when the apparent challenge for a counter motion was called for by the mayor.

“I just wanted to remind everyone on the council what we had decided on last year, as sometimes government moves slow and we can forget the idiosyncratic details as time goes on,” said Meehan. “If they want to remain in opposition, I respect their feelings, but we are going to keep moving forward as the majority voted and we can’t keep delaying meetings and the process by restating and trying to reinvent the argument every time it’s brought up. It’s just counterproductive.”

Although both Pillas and Hall voted for the resolution, Hall did make the effort to bring up another of his campaign promises in his explanation of his vote on Tuesday.

“I said during the election process that I would never vote for another convention center renovation until there was a plan set in place for a downtown parking garage, but I can’t see it in myself to hold this project up even though I think a parking garage would largely benefit the entire downtown area of Ocean City,” said Hall, “but I would challenge my colleagues to bring up that discussion again.”

The additional $5 million in bonded money that was approved on Tuesday will pay for the town’s portion of the project ($4.1 million) and will be paid for by the money brought in by the half percent food and beverage tax.