(May 3, 2019) Planned expansions at the Ocean City convention center are moving forward at full steam after previously deferred legislation authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue new bonds totaling $24.5 million was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday.
The approval of SB 177, and cross-filed HB 178, allows the commencement of the third phase of expansions at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center that will consist of a 30,000-square-foot addition to the main exhibit hall to push exhibit space to 90,000 square feet.
Convention Center Executive Director Larry Noccolino, while breathing a sigh of relief after funding was approved, prepared to work the phone lines Wednesday to alert existing accounts about the forthcoming additional space.
“There’s probably about 20 of our clients that are on a need-to-know basis,” he said. “That does not include the new business we’ve been talking about. These are the existing clients that want to move things around a little bit starting in 2021.”
City Engineer Terry McGean, who attended the Tuesday’s signing ceremony in Annapolis with Mayor Rick Meehan, said with the funding approval secured, design work for the third phase of convention center expansions can resume.
“We’ve had about a year delay here and we’ve got to get the architect and the construction management team back up to speed,” he said.
McGean said after finalizing documents with construction management firm Barton Malow and architects Becker Morgan, the project will be put out to bid later this summer.
“We look to break ground probably this winter with a 2021 opening date,” he said.
The funding request looked to be on track in 2018 after similar legislation, HB 133, was approved by the Appropriations Committee and passed by a 130-3 floor vote in April, but the bill subsequently failed to leave the Senate Rules Committee.
Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C) said a nearly identical scene transpired this legislative session with state lawmakers waiting until the last day of regular session last month to pass funding allocations.
“When the bill was initially slow moving, I spoke to the governor’s chief of staff and was assured the governor supported this,” he said.
Brimming with optimism, last August Gov. Larry Hogan, accompanied by Meehan and Maryland Stadium Authority Executive Director Michael Frenz, held a press conference at the convention center to announce he authorized the Maryland Stadium Authority to pursue funding during the next legislative session in January 2019.
“Obviously, the best way to do it is with legislation, but the governor was committed to it, as we all know from his visit to Ocean City last summer,” Hartman said.
The legislation signed into law this week requires the resort to contribute $15 million towards construction, with total building costs budgeted not to exceed $37.5 million. Additionally, annual contributions for the capital improvement construction fund was increased to $100,000 for both entities.
After the council approved the third phase of convention center expansions in November 2016, the city passed a bond issue to generate $15 million for the effort.
In 2016, the Maryland Stadium Authority produced a feasibility study that found adding 30,000 square feet of exhibit space would result in between $2.6 million and $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.
Noccolino said the next issue is to establish timelines for project completion.
“We’ll know more once we commence our meetings with our construction manager and architects,” he said. “Once we figure out what our start dates are going to be, we can figure out, as well, what our end date is going to be.”
The convention center was opened in 1970 and initially enlarged in 1996. Since that time, a pair of expansions — creating the Performing Arts Center, renovating the ballroom and replacing an exhibit hall — were completed in 2012 and 2015.