ANNAPOLIS — The planned expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City got put back on the fast track this week when state officials approved the $8.15 million contract for the project.
In what turned out to be a love fest of sorts for the resort, the state’s three-member Board of Public Works, which includes Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, on Wednesday approved the $8.15 million contract for Whiting-Turner, a Baltimore-based construction firm hired to oversee the 32,000-square-foot expansion of the convention center in Ocean City.
Mayor Rich Meehan went to Annapolis on Wednesday to pitch the contract award and answer any questions. Before the floor was open for specific questions about the expansion and the $8.15 million contract, O’Malley asked Meehan for a brief summary of how the summer season has been in Ocean City.
“I’m pleased to report we’re having an excellent summer in Ocean City,” he said. “The room tax is up, food tax is up, the sales tax is up and we’re having a great summer moving forward.”
Meehan did not waste the opportunity to remind the board of the success of the big events in Ocean City as it relates to the expansion of the convention center and referenced the value of the Dew Tour, which was held in the resort just days before.
“We just had the Dew Tour last weekend and it was a tremendous success,” he said. “Ocean City was showcased for two hours in prime time on NBC and it was absolutely terrific.”
When it came to pitching the contract award for the convention center, Meehan explained the expansion included 32,000 square feet, of which 27,000 square feet was dedicated to exhibition space. The mayor told the board the expansion was expected to create $1.1 million to $1.6 million each year in tax revenue for the state.
“We’re very excited about this project and we’re ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Perhaps most importantly, Meehan said the expansion should create 300 to 400 full-time equivalent jobs and another 75 full-time equivalent construction jobs during the expansion, which was music to the ears of leaders in a state starved for new jobs.
“That’s just the facility?” O’Malley asked.
Meehan explained those figures represented jobs directly related to the convention center and did not include any new jobs created in the resort’s private sector from a more vibrant, year-round convention facility.
“That’s what we expect in terms of direct jobs related to the facility, not including all of the ancillary jobs created from increased use of the expanded space,” he said.
O’Malley said in his recent travels he has heard a buzz about what is going on in Ocean City, including a recent trip to a neighboring state.
“I was in western Pennsylvania for a wedding and all everybody was talking about was how much they loved Ocean City,” he said. “This will make Ocean City even more attractive for groups and shows and conventions.”
O’Malley recognized the resort’s proactive approach and diligence at a time when other competitors remained stagnant.
“I applaud you and your business community, especially the hospitality industry, for your common sense and balanced approach,” he said. “I have no doubt the folks at Mountain Dew did not choose Ocean City solely because of the beauty of the sands and the ocean. You made yourself more competitive than the other destinations and that allowed you to win the bid.”
The governor said scoring big events such as the Dew Tour justifies an investment in the convention center.
“That shows how important promotions are and illustrates how we need to support this expansion even in times when we are forced to cut back,” he said.
For her part, Kopp said she recalled earlier battles over state investment in the convention center.
“As one of the oldest people up here, I remember the Ocean City Convention Center and the debate over the years in the General Assembly,” she said. “There was serious concern about whether we should invest in that convention center or not.”
Franchot also had high praise for the resort, particularly when it came to its contribution to the state’s tax base.
“I go down to Ocean City frequently and I know what a tremendous gem of a community it is for the state of Maryland,” he said. “I am extremely proud of what you’re accomplishing and I see it in the tax receipts.”
O’Malley agreed when Ocean City is thriving, the entire state benefits.
“Success in Ocean City is a good barometer for Maryland,” he said. “Your summers are a barometer very often for the state’s economy, particularly when it comes to travel and tourism. We appreciate all you are doing for the state.”
The three-member board unanimously approved the $8.15 million contract. Meehan said the project should begin in earnest with the contract approved and told the board a groundbreaking was planned for mid-August during the annual Maryland Association of Counties convention.
“We’re shooting for Aug. 18 during MaCo and we will be sure to invite you once we have the time and the place worked out,” he said.
O’Malley said state officials would be sure to be on hand when that day comes.
“Wherever 300 jobs are gathered, so too shall we gather,” he said.