Citizen Continues To Question Performing Arts Center; Mayor Says Facts Contradict Claims

OCEAN CITY – Allegations from a critic of the new Performing Arts Center in Ocean City were repeatedly shot down again this week by city officials.
Tony Christ, spokesperson for Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), approached the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening with two documents related to ongoing concerns of his over the construction of the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City.
“I am not sure the council knows what I am going to talk about but it has to do with convention users and the effects on the convention users from the PAC that has not been disclosed,” said Christ, who recently led an unsuccessful petition to halt the PAC financing..
First, Christ presented an interdepartmental chart listing convention center clients paired with staff comments regarding the clients’ use of the facility and how they will be affected with the construction of the PAC.
A few convention users Christ highlighted were the Maryland School Nutrition Association, which staff noted “no division in ballroom space/conflicts with other group”, the Urban Expo, which staff noted “can do group but not happy”, and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Trade Show, which staff noted “ballroom and/or auditorium not large enough”.
Christ also pointed out of the 33 convention users, 11 said they would use the theatre, 13 said they would not use the theatre, and nine responses were not available.
“I don’t know if anyone was given this sheet on the council but my main concern is with Epic,” Christ said.
Christ circled Epic Brand Cheerleaders that showed the group has the highest economic impact between convention center use and hotel rooms booked. Their two original events created over $19 million combined out of about $66.5 million of total economic impact the convention center brings in. Staff noted for Epic’s two events listed on the chart “ballroom configuration and size” to summarize the group’s concerns.
“Epic Cheerleaders are huge,” Christ said. “They are 29 percent of all the money the convention center takes in on this projected chart.”
Mayor Rick Meehan took the opportunity to point out the internal work sheet Christ presented is 14 months old and goes to show staff is doing their job in reaching out to convention center users and addressing their concerns.
“Larry [Noccolino, convention center director] continually touches base with all clients. That was when he was originally going back to update all of our users on what we were doing and explain … the first phase of the expansion we were not losing any space by adding the auditorium space. He was doing his job and managing the building,” the mayor said.
City Manager David Recor’s take from the work sheet was a positive rather than a negative.
“It just goes to show the elected officials and the public how much our staff has been proactive in reaching out to the users of the convention center, soliciting their feedback and doing everything they can in addressing their concerns,” Recor said.
Recor reminded the council he sat down with Epic, along with Noccolino, the mayor, City Engineer Terry McGean and PAC architects and construction managers to address the group’s concerns and made changes to address those issues.
“As far as those specific users and whether or not they would have an interest in using the PAC, it is an added bonus for the existing business,” Recor said.
Christ then brought up an email he discussed with the council a few weeks ago referring to an alleged cancellation of a three-year contract with Epic due to the construction of the PAC. Noccolino was present at that time and responded he is not aware there ever was a three-year contract with Epic.
Noccolino’s response prompted Christ to write to City Solicitor Guy Ayres requesting information regarding Ocean City’s contracts with Epic, to which City Clerk Kelly Allmond responded, “the City has never possessed a three-year contract with Epic. Furthermore, the City does not possess any documentation from Epic, or any other user, that states their intent not to return to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center as a result of the changes.”
The email Christ has been alluding to from Epic stating a cancellation of a three-year contract surfaced this week. It is an email dated Aug. 7 from Convention Center Director of Sales & Marketing Fred Wise to Christy Wehner of Epic. The sentence Christ underlined is “We will void the existing contracts for your next three years… ”
Meehan pointed out what Christ failed to mention is the sentence continues “…and produce new documents for your three events.”
The mayor explained the original contracts with Epic only had February and April dates. The new contracts included a new third date in March. In other words, a new event was added. Also, there was never a three-year contract but separate one-year contracts for each year.
Christ went on to present an email from Tina Galdieri of Epic, and pointed out the sentence, “…we are always exploring other options…”
“I got to wonder if all the facts have come out and if the council knows, according to the email, Epic went from a three-year contact to being obligated to one-year, and as Tina states they are always exploring other options,” Christ said. “That would have a profound effect, and should have been known before a Resolution was passed and money was spent [to construct the PAC] in late August at least for discussion.”
Meehan, again, pointed to the remainder of the email from Galdieri dated Nov. 22 in response to an email from Christ.
“Tony had sent them a letter, and actually to try to prove his point he goes as far as trying to talk people out of coming to Ocean City and discourage them. That is what is really becoming apparent to some of our users as I receive comments back from them,” the mayor said.
Galdieri’s response began, “I’m not sure where you heard that Epic Brands had a three-year contract with the Roland E. Powell Convention Center but it’s entirely untrue. We have a one-year contract with them covering February, March and April of 2014 and holding dates for the same months for 2015 and 2016.”
Galdieri admits Epic was unhappy with the initial news of the new PAC but were satisfied once meeting with Ocean City representatives and made minor adjustments to the stage/seating area were made not only to appease Epic but other groups.
“We can let you know that we are very happy with the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and the Town of Ocean City and have no intentions of leaving,” Galdieri said.
Meehan added last week the Maryland State Fireman’s Association was in town and sat down with the mayor, Recor and McGean, who addressed all their concerns on how their event would be mitigated through construction, as well as all the space would be available they had requested. Christ had previously said the MSFA was unhappy over the building redesign as well.
“We have not lost any business at the convention center, and I don’t think you are going to see us lose any business at the convention center due to the efforts being made,” the mayor concluded on Monday evening.
Meehan submitted to The Dispatch on Tuesday, Christ has not been right about anything he has said, on any topic, in the past six months.
“He is just throwing something up there each week hoping something sticks trying to disrupt and discredit the council,” he stated.