OCEAN CITY — Although there is no contract in place, the organizers of the annual cheerleading events in Ocean City have confirmed their intentions to return to the resort in 2014.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
Concerns arose last week after an email circulated by Global JBS, a full-service firm that handles the destination management for the annual conventions, indicated the future of the two cheerleading events in Ocean City was in doubt until more information was learned about the proposed 1,200-seat performing arts center’s impact on the floor space available at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
In an email to hoteliers, Global JBS Housing Coordinator Jeana V. Colby said she could not confirm bookings for next year in Ocean City, “until a decision is made on the proposed changes to the Convention Center.” She added, “we are at a standstill … we desperately want this competition to remain in Ocean City. If the proposed changes to the Convention Center were to be made, we would lose a large portion of floor space that is required to run this competition.”
That email sent shockwaves through the local business community because the February cheerleading event has a reported economic impact of more than $9 million on the Ocean City area through hotel rooms, restaurants and other sales. The same economic boost is reported during a sister convention in April.
Yesterday, as a result of a conference call last Thursday afternoon with Mayor Rick Meehan and Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino, among others, Tina Galdieri, managing partner of Epic Brands, which organizes the annual cheerleading events in Ocean City, reported an intention to return to Ocean City next year.
“We have not signed our contract yet, but we are definitely coming back for 2014,” Galdieri said in a phone interview. “We felt really good about our conversation and that they were really sure even during the expansion times that we had a couple backup plans. Whether we go on various weekends, whether we have a different awards place for our cheerleaders … we have a couple different solutions and we felt very comfortable that the people in Ocean City are really willing to work with us.”
According to Global JBS, the cheerleaders and their families reserved 2,385 rooms the weekend of Feb. 22-24 at an average nightly room rate of $125. Total room nights were reported at 4,823 with a total hotel revenue calculated at more than $600,000, according to Global JBS. Harrision Group Director of Sales Ruth Waters reported last week the company recorded 1,500 room nights over the weekend at its various properties in Ocean City. Similar bookings are expected for the April return of the cheerleaders, which Galdieri reports is the all-star competition and separate from February’s event that involves recreation, school and dance participants.
Galdieri applauded the city for reaching out quickly to the organization and assuaging their fears.
“The city reached out to us very quickly with phone calls. They realized we do bring a lot of business to Ocean City,” she said. “We were happy to have the conversation early on.”
Noccolino confirmed there is no contract in place securing the cheerleaders for another three years, the typical length of convention contracts in Ocean City, but he said the conversation last week was upbeat and informative. He said Epic representatives reported being pleased with the meeting and were happy to hear the city is willing to tweak design plans to satisfy the group’s specific needs.
“We feel extremely good about this and the biggest part of it is the partners at Epic want to return to Ocean City for many years to come. We are working with them and the architect at Becker Morgan as well as our city engineer, Terry McGean, and we all feel we can make this work, not just for Epic but all our clients,” Noccolino said.
Although it’s known the city businesses benefit from the cheerleaders, the convention center’s bottom line also sees significant revenue. According to a city analysis, the two cheerleading conventions result in more than $67,000 in revenue for the city.
Noccolino said he reached out last Friday to another large convention, the Sweet Adelines, which is held in late April each year and attracts about 2,300 attendees.
“Sweet Adelines were happy with our proposal as well,” he said. “We also reached out to Church of God [held in early February with approximately 6,600 participants]. We believe we are quelling their fears, showing what we can do and they are feeling better about things.”
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Brent Ashley asked for an update on the cheerleading event after reading about it in the media last week.
Meehan reported on the conference call with Epic.
“During that call, we had the opportunity, which was a good opportunity to discuss with them the new auditorium or performing arts center, which it doubles as, and their ability to utilize that and they had a couple of concerns. We are in the very final stages of architectural design, it is really finished, but we can make changes, and they had some concerns about being able to use that because of the depth of the stage and height, and they wanted to make sure that it would be able to accommodate their event,” Meehan said. “We were able to show them how, or with minor modifications, which was good to know at that time, that first area of seating at the front of the stage is not permanent seating and those seats can be removed and we can actually extend that stage out which would accommodate what they need.”
Ashley would like to see more timely communication between the city and council members when issues that could impact Ocean City severely arise.
“I would request, as a council member, when anything like this happens I would like to get an update from somebody because I have people calling me and I don’t know what to tell them other than read the newspaper,” Ashley said.
City Manager David Recor said typically information on the situation would have been included in his weekly Friday report, which last week was not distributed due to the Center for the Arts opening on Friday night.
Ashley was not satisfied, saying, “This happened before Friday … the email went out on Tuesday.”
Recor responded the city was able through “good communication” to resolve the issue by Friday.
“There are issues like this that come up during the course of running this hundred million dollar company. If you look at it as a business, in the course of a week that require constant decision making, so yes the issue came up earlier in the week, we immediately scheduled the conference call with the event promoter and before Friday we had resolved the issue with good and effective communication,” Recor said. “We also learned that we should be reaching out to the other event promoters that have booked the convention center to involve them in a similar dialogue and [Convention Center Director] Larry Noccolino will be doing just that.”
Ashley voiced his displeasure and took exception to the “good communication” assertion.
“Well it’s not because when you’re talking potentially millions of dollars lost in revenue for these hotels and so forth and people are calling me and I don’t know what to tell them … so I don’t agree with good communication,” Ashley said.
Recor said if there are any questions in the future that Ashley and any of his colleagues can communicate with him.
During the conversation, Meehan expressed disappointment that “misinformation” caused this panic among the business community. He said it was premature and caused an unnecessary uproar.
“It was positive. You can throw out negatives, and you can try to throw out misinformation, which I think happened,” Meehan said. “We have a lot of partners in town and rather than working with us sometimes it’s almost like they work against us.”