OCEAN CITY — State lawmakers this week passed Governor Larry Hogan’s fiscal year 2018 capital budget, which includes a significant financial shot in the arm for several major Lower Shore projects including the next major phase of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center expansion.
On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed Hogan’s capital budget with a 123-13 vote. A short time later, the Senate passed the governor’s capital spending plan with a unanimous 47-0 vote. The budget includes funding for several vital capital improvement projects on the Lower Shore including $500,000 for the Phase 3 expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City.
Also included in the governor’s capital budget approved on Wednesday is $100,000 for the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea in Ocean City, $681,000 for the new Atlantic General Hospital Cancer Care Center, $50,000 for the new Worcester County Public Library in Berlin, $500,000 for upgrades to the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury that hosts the Delmarva Shorebirds, $630,000 for the Salisbury Animal Health Laboratory replacement and another $1 million for a Salisbury revitalization project.
The $500,000 for the third phase of the convention center approved on Wednesday is part of a larger commitment from the state for the roughly $34 million project. The budget also includes pre-authorized funding totaling $830,000 for fiscal year 2019 and finally over $18 million in fiscal year 2020.
State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), who helped champion the bond bills on the Senate side, said on Thursday the initial investment included in the current capital budget will help jumpstart the next phase of the convention center expansion.
“We were most fortunate to get the funding approved for the convention center expansion,” he said. “This will help pay for the preliminary design work and get this project rolling. It also includes pre-authorization for funding for the full $20 million by 2019. I met with the governor’s budget folks and the Senate fiscal leadership and we were able to get a lot of these things through.”
The expansion will add 30,000 square feet of exhibit space on the north side of the facility that will tie into existing Exhibit Halls A and B. The expanded space could be used alone for a single event, or opened up with the other adjacent exhibit halls to create a larger space.
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C), who championed the bond bills on the House side, said getting the funding for the Convention Center expansion and all of the worthy capital projects on the Lower Shore represented a windfall of sorts under current economic constraints.
“Given the state’s budget challenges, there’s even more pressure to make the strongest case we can for funding responsible, cost-effective projects that have the most economic and community impact,” she said. “I am thankful that Governor Hogan included several of these local projects in his budget and am grateful that the Maryland General Assembly has funded them in this year’s capital budget.”
Carozza said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and City Engineer Terry McGean testified earlier this month on behalf of the convention center expansion funding, pointing out the facility’s contributions to state and local coffers.
“Mayor Meehan did a terrific job of testifying and making a strong case that the Ocean City Convention Center is a revenue generator for the entire state of Maryland,” she said. “I believe the phase 3 expansion will meet the growing needs of the existing major conventions and trade shows like the Maryland Firemen’s Convention, the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League. Plus, the expansion will allow more out-of-state conferences which need additional exhibit space to select the Ocean City Convention Center in the future.”
Carozza said the $500,000 commitment to the Ocean City Convention Center expansion project included in this year’s budget will set the course for a full commitment totaling over $20 million from the state. The Maryland Stadium Authority, Ocean City’s partner in the Convention Center, will pay 60 percent of the expansion costs, or just over $20 million. Ocean City is on the hook for 40 percent, or roughly $13 million, which will be paid through one cent added to the food tax in the resort.
“I am also delighted that the capital budget includes $835,000 in pre-authorization funding for the 2018 session and $18.6 million for the 2019 session,” she said. “We will continue to work with Governor Hogan and our colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly to keep this revenue-generating project as a priority in next year’s budget.”
Carozza said she has seen the Roland E. Powell Convention Center grow over the years.
“On a personal note, growing up in Ocean City, it has been amazing to be part of a Convention Center that continues to grow jobs and boost the local and state economy,” she said. “A few years back when my Mom was the executive director for the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, that officer was housed in the convention center and today that space is a premier visitor’s center and we now have a world-class performing arts center on the same campus.”
In terms of the Children’s House by the Sea in Ocean City, which provides a retreat for families with children who are ill, Mathias said the injection of state funding will help the organization expand its facilities in the resort.
“We’re very fortunate to get the funding through for the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House,” he said. “They do a remarkable job and help those families and children in need when they need it the most. It’s a wonderful organization and this funding will help them continue to do what they do best.”