Study Recommends County Add Alcohol To Civic Center

SALISBURY – Wicomico County has some decisions to make as recommendations come forward to enhance the Wicomico Youth Civic Center (WYCC) to keep it up to par in the modern world.

Earlier this week, Wicomico County’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism released the market and analysis study of the WYCC prepared by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) and Crossroads Consulting Services. The study was conducted to determine whether the facility should be renovated, expanded or rebuilt to best serve county residents and visitors.

“We needed to come to some kind of decision on our civic center in moving forward,” County Executive Rick Pollitt said. “There is so much going on and we want to have as big a piece of pie as we can but we don’t want to lose our roots.”

According to the study, the most economically feasible with least financial risk option was determined to be an upgrade of the existing building. Expanding the existing space would maintain the existing market share while allowing it to grow, increase revenues and enhance the overall impact to the local economy.

Programmatic recommendations include replacing seats and redesigning the seating bowl to offer closer experience and better sight lines; adding a mechanical curtain system that allows arena to be partitioned for smaller events; building a divisible ballroom, meeting rooms and exhibit space outside Normandy arena; adding additional dressing room areas; reconfiguring the overall layout to accommodate simultaneous events; improving front- and back-of-house support space as well as patron; and improving traffic and parking to support activities at a larger facility.

MSA finds an expansion/renovation project preferable over building a new facility because it necessitates a far less financial commitment, as well as achieves the goals expressed by stakeholders to book more events and offer greater variety of attractions to the regional audience.

Market research also suggests that other changes be made to WYCC policies to enhance potential revenue and economic impact generation. Recommendations include revisiting the policy to allow alcoholic beverage sales, which will be important to fundamentally changing the existing WYCC’s event base and financial performance.

According to the report, sports/entertainment and exhibit-oriented events are estimated to be positively impacted by the expansion/renovation by the number of events booked and attendance. With the expansion/renovation events could increase from 218 to 241 and an attendance of about 189,000 to about 246,000. If the alcohol policy was to change than events could increase up to 255 and have 262,000 attendees.

Total economic benefits are estimated to range from $19 million or $20.3 million if the alcohol policy were to change, which would be an increase of 31 percent and 40 percent.

Total fiscal benefits are estimated to range from $1.8 million or $1.9 million in if the alcohol policy is changed, which would be an increase of $138,000 to $174,000 in incremental new county taxes and $307,000 to $421,000 in incremental new state taxes. Also, direct spending is estimated to generate 50 to 70 incremental new jobs.

“Alcohol is a very sensitive issue,” Ed Urban, chairperson of the Civic Center, said.

Urban explained that the land the civic center sits on was donated around the 1940’s to be used as a ballpark and a covenant has been placed on the land that no alcohol sales will take place.

“We like to get that convent removed and the way we would be able to propose it is if it would have to be a win-win-win,” he said. “The citizens of the county would have to benefit and they would benefit by a reduction of tax appropriations because we would make a better bottom line.”

Urban furthered that another benefit would be if the 38 acres that were gifted, now currently the site of the civic center, were to be transferred to a different location and a ballpark was constructed in the person’s name.

“So in essence to me that would be a win in their memory … we would have accomplished why that land was donated,” he said. “We also feel it would be a benefit to the youth of the area because if we had a better bottom line we could do more in our recreation and the park would provide them with the park that this was intended for.”

Urban added that if the center were able to sell alcohol all events would have to come before the WYCC committee to be granted permission.

“It would probably take going to court and somebody hearing the trade off and making a decision as to taking the handcuffs off of the civic center and off of the citizens of this town,” Urban said of having the covenant lifted.

With Phase I of the study completed, the findings will be processed by the governing center commission and presented to County Executive Rick Pollitt with a recommendation in moving forward into Phase II, which would entail working with the MSA in developing architectural engineering drawings and estimates in costs.

“We want to keep it here, we want it to be alive, we want to keep it vibrant but we also want to be competitive,” Pollitt said. “There is a lot of balancing and a lot of study, and a lot of hard decisions that are going to have to be made to keep this facility economically viable …”