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Christ attempts to keep petition alive after deadline passes

(Nov. 22, 2013) Although what the city believes to be the deadline passed Wednesday, the petition against the Performing Arts Center may still be submitted by the end of the month and the city pressed to accept it, according to Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice spokesman Tony Christ.

Christ, the organizer of the controversial petition against borrowing money for the convention center’s new theater space, made further allegations this week about the project’s impact on the convention business

“We are suspending operations until the city gives us full disclosure,” Christ said. “There are bigger issues at stake here than a 1,200-seat auditorium.”

Nov. 20 was the final day for OCTSJ’s petition to be submitted, per the city’s calculation. According to city code, petitioners have three days from the passage of an ordinance to file a petition, which is to be approved within five days by the City Solicitor, and then has 40 days to garner the signatures of 40 percent of those citizens who voted in the last election.

If the petitioners take excess time for submittal, it is taken out of the 40-day statute. In Christ’s case, City Solicitor Guy Ayres rejected his petition multiple times due to errors in the legal language, and considered these to be a delay on the part of the petitioners. Subsequently, Christ had 29 days, instead of 40, following his final approval.

Christ, however, claims that this is a flawed interpretation of the city’s code and an intentional stalling tactic on the city’s part. If he gets enough signatures by Nov. 31, he will lobby to have the 11 subtracted days reinstated and the petition validated, he said this week.

“We will try to seek relief in other ways,” he said.

Christ also made further allegations that the city has not been forthright in discussing how the PAC project will impact business at the convention center. However, city officials say they have no evidence or reason to believe that Christ’s projections are true.

Although Christ claimed this week that the Epic Brands cheerleading competitions had cancelled a contract with the city, Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino said this is patently false.

“The convention center has never possessed a three-year contract with Epic,” Noccolino said. “Furthermore, the convention center does not possess any documentation from Epic or any other user that states their intent not to return as a result of the changes for the Performing Arts Center.”

Epic Brands was one of the promoters who had expressed concern this past spring that their event space would be compromised by the loss of the convention center’s “Hall C” to make way for the PAC addition. As a result, the city agreed to widen the design of the stage to better accommodate Epic and other events, and secured the cheerleading competitions for the coming year.

Christ also noted this week that the barbershop quartet singing competitions, which take place in the convention center, will not be renewed next year.

This may be true, Noccolino said, but not because of the PAC.

“It would be because of pricing,” he said. “They’ve left before because of that, but we’re still holding their dates. There’s a possibility that they’ll come back. They’re negotiating with other convention centers.”

The city plans to borrow $8.3 million next month to finance the PAC, which will be able to host a number of events including higher-end concerts and theater. The center is currently under construction and will take roughly a year to finish.

However, OCTSJ has submitted that the cost of the center, and the risk of compromising other established events, is not worth the marginal benefit of $200,000 to $240,000 in city revenues and $3.2 to $3.9 million in ancillary economic impact that the center was projected to see annually in a 2010 feasibility study.

The PAC is expected to attract 45,700 to 55,050 in incremental new attendance. This compares to the center’s nearly 400,000 attendee-days logged for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the majority of them being from conventions and trade shows.

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