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City to appropriate tent funding

(Jan. 31, 2014) There was some consternation this week that, despite all the promises made about the potential of the Performing Arts Center, the city will still be spending $45,000 on tents to accommodate long-standing programs while the new facility is under construction.

Council cast an affirmative, but divided, vote this week to amend the town’s contract with the vendor who provides tents for Springfest and Sunfest, adding additional services at the same negotiated rate for the Epic Brands cheerleading event on April 4-6.

The cost will be paid out of the $8.3 million in bond proceeds the city took out for construction of the PAC project – a sticking point for some.

“I think this should just be a cost of doing business,” said Councilman Brent Ashley. “We shouldn’t be using capital bond money to rent tents.”

“We had this discussion with the Maryland Stadium Authority, and we agreed that this was directly related to construction,” noted City Engineer Terry McGean. “If [construction] wasn’t going on, that room would be available.”

The tents will provide warm-up space for cheerleaders preparing to compete. Previously, the group had held its competition in the western half of the upstairs ballroom at the convention center, and put up a divider to make the eastern half into a warm-up area.

However, the eastern half is now closed off and will, when construction is complete, be consumed by the balcony level of the PAC. Once the facility is finished, the cheerleaders will be able to hold competitions in the theater space and use the western ballroom for warm-ups.

“I just want to make sure they understand and the public understands that after we’re done, we don’t need the tents…that they’re not needing a tent every year,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.

Accommodating events such as the Epic Brands cheerleading competitions was a major sticking point of the PAC project and the decision to go forward with it.

Epic Brands, specifically, had voiced concerns last year that the PAC renovations would mean the convention center would no longer have enough open space for their event. After minor modification to the project, Epic and other convention clients were convinced to stay.

“We always keep the building going during construction,” McGean said of the alterations that have been made to the convention center since it was built. “We’ve prided ourselves that we’ve never lost an event during construction.”

Throughout the approval process for the project, there was concern that the cost of the PAC, and the sacrifice of open convention hall space to make room for it, would not be worth the potential gains the city hopes to see by booking plays, concerts, and other higher-end attractions at the facility. The total cost of the project is estimated at $14 million, with the MSA picking up $6.7 million as part of its partnership with the city.

“My vote was for construction of the Performing Arts Center,” Ashley said. “We voted for a bond offering that says ‘certain costs of construction of the performing arts center.’ In my mind – and I’m all for keeping the cheerleaders here – but this money should come out of the convention center’s budget as a cost of doing business.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the tent expenditure is legally within the city’s purview and does not misuse the bond funds.

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