OCEAN CITY — The construction of the new performing arts center in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City began in earnest Monday with an aggressive completion timetable and perhaps an even more determined booking approach.
The state-of-the-art, 1,200-seat, two-tiered performing arts center inside the Roland E. Powell Convention Center has an aggressive target completion date set for November 2014. With a Nov. 11, 2014 target date for completion, Ocean City Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino is already planning for future shows and events for the new facility with an aggressive booking plan running concurrently with the construction schedule.
“I’ve already been working with different groups and there has been a lot of positive response,” he said. “We’re targeting completion for Nov. 11, 2014 and I’m already working on something for Nov. 30, 2014, the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend next year.”
While details of that potential early event are unclear, Noccolino is already planning a major signature groundbreaking event for early 2015. He said plans are in the works to bring the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Julien Benichou to the new performing arts center for a major groundbreaking performance on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, which would also fall on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
Noccolino said this week he and his staff are trying to stay out in front of the construction crews in terms of booking the new performing arts space.
“We have to be aggressive,” he said. “It’s very competitive out there and we have to be constantly looking to book performances and shows and really utilize this wonderful new space.”
Noccolino said he envisions around three to four major city-sponsored events each year in the performing arts center, with as many as 18-25 promoter-sponsored events.
“We’re already working with various promoters locally and in metropolitan areas like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington,” he said. “All have shown great interest in this project. Nothing would make me happier than having all of our 2015 dates in the books by the summer of 2014.”
Noccolino said many of the convention center’s existing groups have inquired about utilizing the new auditorium and performing arts center in conjunction with their annual conventions and events. To name a few, the Cheer and Dance groups, Trinity Motivation, Market America, the Maryland State Firefighters Convention, the Seaside Boat Show, Star Power and the Cruisin’ events have all shown interest in booking the space.
“All of these groups could really expand their events,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”
This week, crews began demolition work in the old sections of Hall C on the ground floor of the Convention Center and already a demising wall is going up on the second floor in what used to be part of Halls A and B.
When complete, the floor-to-ceiling demising wall will separate the relatively new bay-front ballroom on the second floor from the construction work going on in the performing arts center. The intent is to allow crews to continually work on the massive project without and disruption to the regular day in, day out uses of the convention center and the already booked guests.
“The demising wall will separate the construction areas from the existing exhibit spaces including the bay-front ballroom,” said Noccolino this week. “That’s the biggest first step. The construction plan is designed in such a way as to not interfere with any of the groups we’ve already booked for the Convention Center throughout this process.”
Noccolino said he and his staff will meet each Monday with the builders, Whiting-Turner out of Baltimore, to carefully plan how to schedule work around the existing groups using the convention center.
Phase I of the major convention center expansion, including the bay-front ballroom and its floor-to-ceiling windows, was completed last year. Phase II, including the 1,200-seat performing arts center complete with 800 fixed seats in two tiers and 400 more movable orchestra seats, dressing rooms, concession areas and a box office, will cost $14 million and is being funded in part by the state through the Maryland Stadium Authority at $5.7 million. The town of Ocean City is funding the remaining $8.3 million, which will be covered by a 2013 bond issue.
With the funding in place and the construction starting this week, Noccolino foresees no obstacles for the project. However, a local citizens group launched a petition drive this week that if successful could stall the project. In the meantime, the city and the builder are moving ahead.
Given the contractor’s track record on Phase I, which was targeted for an Oct. 10, 2012 completion date and finished precisely on Oct. 10 save for a few punch-list items, the November 2014 target date appears obtainable.
“Everything is on schedule and on target,” he said. “The funding is in place and there should be no problems with the construction schedule. The one thing we don’t have to worry about this time is the weather. All of the work will be done indoors.”