Council, Art League Ink New Building Deal

OCEAN CITY – The Art League of Ocean City (ALOC) moved another step toward the facility of its dreams on Tuesday, as the Mayor and City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and lease of the new venue.

The ALOC originated in the 1960’s and has been working out of the same building located on 94th Street for 27 years. Since 1991, the art league has been asking for a new art center since its current location has been deemed to be beyond its useful life.

In July, the ALOC came before the Mayor and City Council with $200,000 that it had raised. It represents 25 percent of the projected cost of the new building. At that time, the ALOC agreed to manage, maintain and operate the building.

This week the verbal agreement was presented in contract. The MOU provides that Ocean City will demolish the existing building through the labor of the town’s public works department at no cost to the project. The new venue will be built in the same location. The design of the building will be donated by Atlantic Planning and Development, Inc., and Ocean City has final approval of the design.

Also, the budget for the project is $800,000, including the $200,000 contributed by the ALOC. Ocean City will provide the other 75 percent, or $600,000. Any overages have to be approved by the Mayor and City Council.

According to the MOU, the budget includes the hard construction of the building and the site work, not the interior. Costs for furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FFE) or other costs that are not in the budget are to become the expense of the art league. Any cost savings from the project will be used to offset FFE expenses.

Council members Margaret Pillas and Brent Ashley’s decision not support the town’s commitment to the project has not changed since July.

Ashley said he couldn’t testify to the expense when assessments are decreasing and town employees haven’t had a raise in three years.

“This is an additional expense,” Ashley said. “I have always gone on the philosophy that a small leak will sink a big ship, so I think every dollar and every penny has to be watched.”

Ashley also pointed out that the $600,000 is most likely to be added to the bond received to fund the Boardwalk’s renovation.

“If it is added to our bond issue, it is really going to be more than that with the interest expense,” he said.

Pillas asked for a retail section to be added to the building’s lease because the ALOC plans on selling art work in order to pay for the continuing maintenance of the building as they currently do.

Councilman Joe Hall felt that an agreement should be drafted between the town and the art league on how the project’s overages will be covered before the project breaks ground.

“We will do everything we can to keep the project within budget but when the project gets bid out and there is just no way to do this for $800,000, we would come back to you,” City Engineer Terry McGean said.

Council President Jim Hall felt confident that the project would remain within its budget.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “We are going to allow them in this MOU to use anything they save to use in the interior. So I’m sure when they are building the building they are going to try to keep it as thrifty as they can.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight took the time to dispel a rumor she had been hearing in the area.

“I have heard throughout the community that the $600,000 that we are giving could be used toward employee’s raises,” she said. “Well that is completely incorrect.”

Knight explained that the town’s contribution will be added to a bond in which the town will most likely pay off in $40,000-a-year increments.

“Just for the record $40,000 a year will not give our employees a raise, unfortunately,” she said.

ALOC Board member Rina Thaler approached the Mayor and City Council to address their concerns. She reminded the council that the league is a nonprofit organization, 501c3, and that status controls the fact that it cannot sell retail unless merchandise is event related.

“As far as the overages, I had promised at our last session that we would keep the costs as low as we can,” she said. “In the end, this will remain a city building so whatever money you are putting into it, you are getting the equity out of it.”

Thaler said that ALOC has already created a capital campaign to raise money once the project’s budget has run out. Upon approval, ALOC leaders will launch the campaign officially and begin soliciting donations.

 “We have been working on a lot of programming ideas for the future to incorporate the community and draw people into the arts,” she said.

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that the new art center will provide an opportunity to advance, grow, value, and generate revenue for Ocean City.

“You are going to see the interest in the arts expand, which helps our residential base,” he said. “There are a lot of things that tie the art league into being a really productive viable community. We are going to see the economic benefit.”