Convention Center Expansion Project Called ‘Smooth’

OCEAN CITY – The Dispatch stopped in at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center to catch up with officials on the building’s expansion project that is now well underway.

Phase one of the project began last summer and is expected to be completed by October 2012. The phase will bring 32,000 square feet of new space, including a new lower exhibit hall of 14,218 square feet, a new bayfront ballroom addition of 12,663 square feet and the remainder of the renovation includes hallways, storage, truck docks, mechanics and staff space.

“What we are doing is increasing the size of the ballroom and adding a lower level exhibit hall,” City Engineer Terry McGean explained. “It will be bayfront space with bay views and that allows us to move to phase two, which is the 1,200-seat auditorium that we are able to create an auditorium and have additional exhibit space.”

Phase one is estimated to cost about $9.3 million. Ocean City has committed to pay for $5 million and the state is contributing $4.3 million. The project is estimated to bring in new state tax revenue of about $1.1 to $1.6 million a year.

McGean said that it is tough to predict the start date for phase two of the convention center expansion project, due to different variables, such as receiving funding approval from the state, completing a design and the procurement process but at the earliest it could start is by early 2013. He added that it would take about a year for the auditorium to be built and estimated that phase two could be completed by early 2014.

Since construction has begun at the convention center, the project has reportedly remained on time and on budget.

“Given the type of project I would say it is going smooth,” McGean said. “Anytime you are renovating or dealing with an existing building it is a lot more challenging than if it is you are starting from scratch.”

Acting Convention Center Director Wayne Pryor said this season’s unusually nice weather has been a plus. Also, there have been no interruptions from the building’s patrons or clients to slow down the process.

“There haven’t been any real big surprises so far that have thrown anything off track,” project architect Jack Mumford of Becker Morgan said.

According to McGean, about 25 percent of the project has been completed or is under way. So far, the building truck docks have been relocated and staff space has been completed.

“We are in progress with the big demolition, which is tearing down the old stage and all of that structure,” he said.

McGean said the next big step is the steel structure of the new ballroom and exhibit space, such as beams and columns. The structure will begin once the demolition of the old stage is completed, which is expected to be done by the end of the week.

Mumford added that the entire back wall of the new ballroom and exhibit space will be completed in glass to take in a full bay view.

Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) Project Executive Gary McGuigan and Pryor agreed that the bay view is the most important element included in the project. MSA also assisted Ocean City in the convention center’s first expansion about 15 years ago.

“One of the things that we missed in the last expansion was gaining the bay views,” McGuigan said. “This will give Ocean City full access to the views of the bay that hasn’t been there before. With exhibit space usually, you don’t put in windows … this new multi-functional ballroom and exhibit space with the bay is going to be great.”

Pryor explained that when the convention center was first built in the 1970’s its original view was focused on the ocean across the street but as Ocean City developed over the years the view became obstructed.

“The bay was an afterthought and now we are going to make it a priority again so that the conventioneers that come here and the seminars and workshops that we have here are going to be able to see this beautiful waterfront view that has been underestimated and undervalued over the years,” Pryor said.

Not only will the new ballroom and exhibit space on the second floor have a bay view but so will the first floor. McGean said the current exhibit space on the first floor was originally storage space that was converted.

“It is kind of a dark and dingy room and the last space anybody wants to buy,” he said. “What we are building on the lower floor will be bay front and it will be a much nicer, sellable space.”

McGean used the annual Maryland State Fireman Association Convention as an example of a group that will benefit. Usually the firemen utilize the same exhibit space for their ceremony and banquet hall.

“It is much more flexible and will allow for a whole new style of events to come in, performing arts style, but also for our existing events to take advantage of it,” he said.

A new style of events that staff is looking forward to having come to the convention center is the realm of competitive arts, such as cheerleading and gymnastics.

“They are really an economic spark for this town because their parents and grandparents come, and they are staying in hotels and eating in restaurants,” Pryor said.