City Council Backs New Center Plan

City Council Backs New Center Plan
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Hamilton’s big idea could become the Ocean City Convention Center’s bright

The City Council voted
unanimously to move forward with a new and more expensive plan for the already
approved Roland E. Powell Convention Center expansion, which will increase the
exhibit space by 20,000 square feet, utilizing the stunning bay views as a
calling card to exhibitors, and eventually, install a two-level, 1,200-seat
performing arts center/auditorium.

The Mayor and Council,
which was all but divided on the expansion, particularly the idea of the fixed
seat performing arts center, when the original motion passed via a 5-2 vote
last year, were seemingly excited for the new layout for the expansion, even if
those new plans will add $800,000 to phase one of the project.

“This is a beautiful
plan, and it’s extremely well done,” said Councilman Jim Hall, “and yes, it
costs more, but we have a revenue source that will be able to fund it as planned.”

City Engineer Terry
McGean estimates that phase one of the expansion, which is tentatively slated
to begin in December and finish by spring of 2012, will now cost roughly $9
million, as opposed to the $8.2 million that the town of Ocean City and the Maryland
Stadium Authority agreed to partner the costs on in their continued 50/50

“The additional costs we
will pay for, as the Maryland Stadium Authority was approved for their share of
the $8.2 million,” said McGean, “but the additional costs will not go over what
we were permitted to borrow, and it will not be more than what the food and
beverage tax will support.”

Several months ago, in

an interview with The Dispatch, Hamilton alluded to some flaws that he saw in the

original plan, most notably the splitting of the huge open room on the second
floor for a sub-par performing arts center, and hinted towards a new layout
plan that would be not only much more functional for exhibitors and enable
multiple events to take place at once, but it would also be much more
aesthetically pleasing, and offer a top-notch multi-purpose facility in the

“This is just a much
better design, as we found out very quickly that the first design didn’t lend
itself well to certain events, but this will take our building to the next
level and move us from a third tier market to a second tier market, in that we
can do several functions in the building at once, and that is very appealing to
people in the region who are looking at using the building,” Hamilton said.

McGean said that the
three main goals for the expansion were to create 20,000 square feet of new
exhibit space while capturing the bay views, as well as not losing any exhibit
space with the creation of the performing arts center.

“One of the biggest things
that we heard from the exhibitors was that they wanted us to somehow maintain
20,000 square feet of critical mass on the second floor and with this new plan,
we can do this,” McGean said.
Simply put, by moving the performing arts center, or auditorium as it will be
called, to the first floor where Hall C currently sits, and by knocking out the
second floor area that sits above Hall C, the performing arts center will
become a two-level space with height capabilities for state-of-the-art fly
galleries for lighting and scene changes, and will allow the first 250 seats on
the ground level to be mobile for various events.

McGean also added that
the space in Hall C that would be lost due to the auditorium, would be
recaptured by enclosing a bayfront loading dock and creating a modern exhibit
space that will feature bay views as well.

Hamilton estimates that
more than 70% of the current users will utilize the auditorium for assemblies
and openings and closings of their conventions, and it will increase the scope
of booking competitive arts groups like cheerleading, dance, and gymnastics.

McGean also asked the
council to allow contractor Whiting-Turner to do a study to determine the new
cost for the two level performing arts center, which is expected to cost much
more than the $1.5 million that was estimated in the first plan.

“If you remember with
the first estimate, it was pretty much a stage, a sloping floor for the seats
and a new paint job,” said McGean. “Obviously this plan is going to be much
more than the original estimate, but again, no more than the food and beverage
tax can support.”

Since the half of a
percent food and beverage tax funds the convention center project, and the
town’s continual partnership with the Maryland Stadium Authority is in good standing,
Mayor Rick Meehan said he’s confident that when the time comes to start the
auditorium, the state will be on board as well.

“When we went to the
Board of Public Works with phase one of this project, we got a unanimous
approval and I hope that when we go back to the Board of Public Works sooner
rather than later, present the second phase, show them the economic impact and
ask them again to be our partners in this, I’m very confident that the success
of Ocean City and the success of our partnership will result in a continued
partnership in phase 2,” Meehan said.