ANNAPOLIS – Ocean City, looking for state help to renovate and expand its 25-year-old convention center, wants to put the facility under the Maryland Stadium Authority’s domain.
The Authority oversees the Baltimore Convention Center and Camden Yards. Under a bill before the House Appropriations Committee, Ocean City’s project would become the authority’s third facility.
The $29.4 million cost would be paid with two-thirds state funds and one-third local funds. Ocean City would issue bonds and contribute $9.8 million of the proceeds. The Authority would contribute $19.6 million from its bonds sales.
Del. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, said he sponsored the bill because Ocean City’s 6,500 residents cannot afford the expansion costs.
Proponents argue that the convention center benefits the state with between $3 million and $4 million annually. With the expansion, those revenues would increase to an estimated $8.8 million each year.
The remodeled convention center is expected to open in the fall of 1997. It could host more or larger conventions, two or more events at the same time.
Ocean City Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell told lawmakers Wednesday that the convention hall has “major structural problems” and can’t accommodate large conventions. He said several groups have outgrown the facility and gone to other cities.
The expansion would more than double the Convention Center’s size, adding meeting and exhibit space, a ballroom and food service facilities.
Powell said the project would boost Ocean City’s economy during the off-season. Seventy-one percent of convention center business occurs in the spring and fall, he said.
The Stadium Authority legislation complements another Bozman bill that would authorize home rule counties to charge a 1 percent sales tax on prepared foods and beverages in resort towns. That bill was passed by the House and is currently being considered by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. The tax would generate $1.75 million annually. Robert Rothermel, executive director of the Ocean City Department of Tourism, said the project depends on the success of both measures. -30-