‘New Business’ A Focus For Powell Center Director

OCEAN CITY — Resort business leaders this week got their first formal introduction to new Roland E. Powell Convention Center Director Larry Niccolino, who is already bullish on the future of the facility.

Niccolino was appointed to the position in April following the resignation of former Convention Center Director Rick Hamilton last November. He was chosen after a months-long national recruitment campaign and hit the ground running with a major expansion of the facility already underway.

“It’s been very, very enlightening,” Niccolino told Economic Development Committee members on Wednesday. “I already have a few ideas. I’ve heard ‘we’ve never done that before in Ocean City,’ but I don’t like hearing we’ve never done that before.”

The Roland E. Powell Convention Center is going through phase one of its latest major expansion project. Phase one, which began last October and is on target for an October 2012 completion date, is expanding the facility by 32,000 square feet including a 12,000-plus square-foot bayfront ballroom and 14,000 square feet of new exhibit space.

‘I don’t know if you’ve been through there recently, but it’s one of the most breathtaking views in Ocean City,” Niccolino said. “I’m really looking forward to the first date for the new space.”

The first phase of the convention center expansion comes with an estimated $9.3 million price tag. Ocean City has committed $5 million to the project with the state picking up the other $4.3 million. According to projects, the expanded convention center is expected to bring in new state tax revenue at about $1.1 million to $1.6 million per year. Niccolino told EDC members this week it won’t take long for the city and its business community to recoup the investment.

“I love bringing business into the city, and I’m talking about new business,” he said. “I think we can replace what we lost and really add to what we do now. I’m talking about really adding room-nights with this facility.”

EDC members were generally pleased to hear Niccolino’s prediction for the boost to the private sector.

“That’s music to our ears,” said EDC President Michael James. “We like to hear about more room-nights and we’re 100 percent behind you.”

The second phase of the project includes a 1,200-seat auditorium and more exhibit space. Depending on a variety of factors, it could begin in early 2013 and be completed in early 2014.