Money for expansion sitting in committee
(March 22, 2019) The proposed expansion of the Ocean City convention center sits in limbo as state legislation authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue $24.5 million in bonds to help pay for the project remains mired at committee level.
Mayor Rick Meehan said state lawmakers have failed to advance HB 178, cross-filed as SB 177, since city officials provided testimony at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Feb. 28. The Senate version has been sitting in the Budget and Taxation Committee since Feb. 6,
“All of the numerous legislators I’ve spoken with support our position on this bill,” he said. “Hopefully, this will get pushed out of committee [but] I know they’ve been backed up with a lot of bills.”
The funding, if allocated, would finance the third phase of expansions at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center consisting of a 30,000 square foot addition to the main exhibit hall and increasing available exhibit space from 60,000 square feet to 90,000 square feet. Since the structure was opened in 1970, it has been expanded twice, once in 2012 and again in 2015.
Meehan met privately with House Appropriations Chair Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-43, Baltimore) and Budget and Taxation committee Chair Sen. Nancy King (D-39, Montgomery), who both pledged support for the legislative effort, he said.
“Both chairmen felt it was something that would go through committee and … be approved and understood the importance of this,” he said.
Reiterating a point from his testimony before House Appropriations last month, Meehan stressed that the revenue the expansion is projected to generate would be greater than the cost of early debt service on the bonds.
In 2016, the Stadium Authority produced a feasibility study that indicated adding 30,000 square feet of exhibit space would result in between $2.6 million to $3.5 million in additional tax revenues for the state and up to $1 million for Worcester County. SB 177 includes annual bond debt service payments of $1.75 million from fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2039.
Meehan also feels encouraged that comparable legislation in 2018, although failing to navigate through the Senate Rules committee, sailed through the House.
“I’m very optimistic it would pass, because last year in the House it was almost passed unanimously,” he said.
In 2018, HB 133 was approved by the Appropriations Committee and passed by a 130-3 floor vote that April, before arriving in the Senate with insufficient time remaining in the legislative session for the measure to proceed.
Meehan said the expansion has support from the Maryland Municipal League, Maryland Association of Counties, Maryland State Firemen’s Association, the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
Both Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) and Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C) are continuing to monitor the companion bills progress, with neither reporting negative developments to this point, Meehan said.
“This is a positive bill for the state and we’re hopeful it’s going to pass through committee,” he said. “We’re going to remain optimistic.”