Governor Asked For Convention Center Funding Help

OCEAN CITY — After a bill in the General Assembly that would have provided the state’s share of the latest expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center did not get approved, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) this week fired off a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan asking him to intercede on behalf of the crucial funding.

Earlier this year, Ocean City officials approved a third expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. In terms of the third phase, the total estimated cost of the project is $28 million, which will be split evenly between the town and the state through its agreement with the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA). The town’s $14 million is being funded by a portion of a significant bond sale approved late last year.

However, the state’s share through the MSA remains in jeopardy after a bill introduced by Carozza during this year’s session passed through the House, but failed to make it out of the Senate. As a result, Carozza this week fired off a letter to Hogan asking the governor to find a way to fund the state’s share.

“I respectfully am requesting your assistance and leadership to help secure the necessary funding to complete the third and final phase of the expansion to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center,” the letter reads.

Carozza’s letter explains during the recently completed General Assembly session, House Bill 133 was introduced as a departmental bill that would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue new bonds and structure financing terms for the renovation and expansion of he convention center. The legislation was necessary to allow construction to begin this fall as planned in order to have the expanded facility open in time for the 2020 season.

House Bill 133 was approved by the full House of Delegates in early April, but did not make it out of the Senate before the session expired. As a result, the state share of the funding for the project remains in jeopardy, which resulted in Carozza’s letter to Hogan this week.

“Due to the uncertainty of the timing of state funding, Ocean City and Maryland Stadium Authority officials have notified the design and construction firms that a halt on all work on the Ocean City convention center will be necessary,” the letter reads. “Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and the Ocean City town council are very concerned that the failure of House Bill 133 to pass the Maryland General Assembly will delay the construction for a year and negatively impact municipal, county and state revenues.”

According to the letter, the convention center generates over $9 million in state revenue annually and the new exhibit hall expansion will generate an additional annual fiscal impact of $3 million. The state’s debt service on its portion of the expansion cost is estimated at $1.7 million, resulting in a net annual gain for the state of $1.3 million over the life of the bond.

“It is necessary to move forward with the third phase of the Ocean City convention center in order to meet current pent-up demand for new conventions and future growth for existing customers such as the Maryland State Fireman’s Convention and the Maryland Association of Counties,” Carozza’s letter to Hogan this week reads. “After the three improvements to the building are completed, another 570 jobs and $51 million will be added to the Maryland economy.”

Carozza pointed out in the letter the town’s partnership with the MSA over the last two decades-plus has been a fruitful one for the state.

“The Maryland Stadium Authority has shared in the construction cost of the Ocean City convention center since its original expansion in 1996,” the letter reads. “The past two expansions have demonstrated that the Maryland Stadium Authority has successfully managed the construction of both expansions on time and on budget.”

Finally, Carozza’s letter to Hogan implores the governor to find a way to move forward with the state funding for the third expansion of the convention center.

“I urge you and the appropriate state officials to work with the Mayor and Council to assist in working out the necessary funding so we can stay on schedule with the expansion of the Ocean City convention center and continue to generate revenues benefitting the entire state of Maryland,” the letter reads.

The proposed 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.

The latest proposed expansion was approved after a feasibility study commissioned by the town revealed there was a demand for increased convention and trade show space in the state and throughout the mid-Atlantic region and Ocean City’s Convention Center should be expanded to remain competitive.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.