(April 26, 2013) City officials reportedly made great strides this week in securing the business of Epic Brands, the cheerleading promoter whose competitions were feared to be leaving the city’s convention center. Even so, they admit that they are having to continually deal with the concern of other clients who worry that the center’s theater project will cut down their space.
“I’m not going to say the apprehension isn’t there, but we’re going to work with them through the growing pains,” said Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino.
On Monday, Noccolino and other staff from the Roland E. Powell Convention Center met with Epic Brands executives in a meeting that Noccolino described as “very productive.”
“They’ve already secured hotel reservations for 2014, for both the February and April events, and now we’re working out final details of where we’re going to put their warm-ups, because we’ll be under construction while they’re here,” he said.
The impending construction work in the center’s central hall “C” will eliminate the space the cheerleaders typically used for warm-ups and staging, causing a panic when Epic Brands first caught wind of the plans last month.
The current plan, Noccolino said, is to set up a tent in the north-side parking lot as well as a smaller tent in the main parking lot. The city had offered to put up a large tent behind the Makai condominium, which is city owned property, but the group had felt it was too far away from the convention center itself, according to Noccolino.
The focus of concern is the theater expansion that is scheduled to begin in the fall and which constitutes the second phase of the planned convention center renovation. Consisting of a two-level performing arts atrium with roughly 1,200 seats, the theater will be oriented north-south, with the stage itself on the southern border of what is now the convention center’s central hall ‘C.’
The theater’s balcony seating, vaulted ceiling and fly gallery – the space above the stage itself used for lifting props – will use what is now the rear portion of the second-story convention hall, which was recently renovated to include the former second-story deck space.
Noccolino said he expects Epic Brands to reach a three-year agreement with the city for use of the convention center and its cheerleading competitions.
“While they were here, we talked about ’15 and ’16. They would like a three-year contract, but we need to get ’14 ironed out first,” he said.
Epic’s expression of concern last month caused an airing of grievances by local promoters and hoteliers, who said they had suspected for months or even years that the theater project would have a negative effect on the ability of the center to book a wide base of events.
Why they held back their doubts, they said, was fear of a backlash from the city, which they say appeared to desire to build the amenity regardless of functionality.
While the issue with Epic Brands is well on its way to resolution, which includes a minor re-design of the theater’s stage opening to be 10 feet wider, the situation with the city’s event industry and its own clients is a work in progress.
Noccolino and his staff recently completed a sales tour, in conjunction with representatives from local hotels, to visit current and potential clients.
“This past time they went just to Annapolis, but the next trip will be to Philadelphia, the trip after that to Baltimore, and then to Washington, D.C.,” Noccolino said. “We’re calling on new clients as well as old. We have very few holes to fill, but we want to fill each one.”
Concern from event organizers and the lodging industry they patronize has been evident but not insurmountable.
“We’ve been very transparent in our conversations, letting them know exactly what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen, and they’ve been generally amenable to it,” Noccolino said.