OC convention center expansion unnecessaryReaders' Forum
The town is planning yet another expansion of the Ocean City convention center.
The Performing Arts Center was just recently built by giving up valuable space in the facility. Now, there are plans to add an additional 30,000 square feet of exhibit space to the already existing 60,000 square feet, for a total of 90,000 square feet. I believe the Mayor and City Council and the state of Maryland should take a second look.
While there are some events that would benefit by an expansion, do we spend $34 million dollars of local and State funds to accommodate a small number of groups?
The latest market analysis indicates that only 9 percent to 11 percent of conventions and exhibits in the mid-Atlantic region require between 60,001 and 90,000 square feet of exhibit space. Should we be expanding for such a small segment of what has been described as a very competitive market.
The report points out that a key trend in the convention/meeting industry is that over the last two decades, the supply of exhibition and meeting space has seen significant growth, while demand has not kept up.
Based on a survey of existing and potential users, the average amount of exhibit space needed by those responding favorably to continued or future bookings was 46,300 square feet, which we can accommodate.
The survey also reveals that about 44 percent of those surveyed indicated that they anticipate attendance at their event to increase over the next five years, while 56 percent expect attendance to remain the same. The survey further indicated that 50 percent of the respondents thought their space needs would increase over the next five years. The other 50 percent expect their space needs to remain the same. Again, is it worth $34 million dollars?
With expansion, the town intends to target smaller groups in an attempt to book multiple events at the same time. The town will be competing with a number of our local hotels that host similar groups.
I keep hearing that any debt service incurred by an expansion will be paid for by the food & beverage tax. First of all, any bonds sold by the town are done so with the backing of the full faith and credit of the Town. If any problems or changes occur, the debt could fall back on the taxpayers.
Next, the property owners continue to pay for all operating losses with their town and state taxes. That subsidy has averaged nearly $2.7 million annually over the last five years. Finally, I believe that no one pays more food and beverage taxes than our year-round residents and absentee property owners who frequently come to town.
These are the people who go out to our restaurants, bars and night clubs, on average, more than any other group. When the food and beverage tax was first adopted, it had a sunset provision. Over 20 years later, it is still with us.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel Jr.