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OC EXPERIENCE LIKELY SPARED THE AX

(Jan. 4, 2012) The “OC Experience” appears to have been granted a holiday pardon from its near-trip to the guillotine, as local promoter Brad Hoffman said this week that his team is “moving forward in lockstep with the city” to make the trade booth project agreeable to both parties.

“We had a very productive meeting the Friday before Christmas,” Hoffman said. “We’re on the same page and moving forward together.”

The current tone, however, is far different from the one expressed two weeks ago, when the city suggested that it may not wish to move forward with an albeit scaled-back version of the project that it had been working on with Hoffman’s company, Spark Productions.

The project had first been pitched nearly two years ago, when Hoffman proposed a tractor-trailer that would travel to tourism conventions and trade shows around the county to promote the resort. The original price tag was upwards of a quarter of a million dollars and the project remained somewhat bogged down for many months.

A second proposal in February of this year by Hoffman offered an elaborate trade show booth – sans vehicle – with extensive photo and video features, at a reduced price tag of roughly $180,000. The council instructed Hoffman to work with the city’s Tourism Department, the Tourism Advisory Board, and the resort’s advertising agency, MGH, to complete the final design.

The subsequent recommendation, presented in March, suggested that the city could halve the size of its booth and still make a splash at most shows where its competitors – such as Virginia Beach and Atlantic City – also had a presence.

A final price tag of $85,000 for Spark to create the booth and staff it at four national-level shows was unanimously approved. Hoffman also offered to staff the booth at four additional, local shows at no extra cost.

But at the Dec. 17 mayor and City Council meeting, the city’s stance changed significantly from the overt enthusiasm displayed in March. Tourism Director Donna Abbot suggested that the city take on only two shows and use pre-existing Rodney the Lifeguard marketing materials instead of Hoffman’s project.

As was revealed at the meeting, there appeared to be much confusion over who was responsible for developing a formal memorandum of understanding between the city and Spark, and who exactly had the right to modify the show schedule. Hoffman’s final proposal actually gave an $83,000 price tag for three shows – but it was Abbot who had cut the schedule.

The idea that the MOU was a conditional factor for the project only came up through “the fact that I was called back in here to give an update and was blindsided by another option,” Hoffman said at the meeting.

“This was Spark Productions intellectual property,” he added. “I moved this idea forward with the mayor and council and the Tourism Department. I scaled it down to the price that they wanted. It was designed to go to the travel shows I articulated. Donna Abbott did not study those shows. I studied those shows.”

“I feel it’s very disingenuous in many ways and on many levels, when that was not the intent of council [to support the project],” Hoffman continued last month.

Although a motion was made, and seconded, to go with Abbott’s alternative, the council ultimately decided to table the issue and have Abbott and City Manager David Recor meet with Hoffman as soon as possible to work on an MOU which would provide parameters satisfactory to all.

By this week, that process seemed to have reversed the antagonism between Hoffman and the city’s Tourism Department, although Hoffman said he did not wish to reveal any details ahead of meeting with City Council for approval on Jan. 7.

“I don’t want to put anything out there until we come before the council on the seventh,” Hoffman said. “But it’s been a real pleasure working with the new city manager and Tourism Director Abbott. We’ve been working in concert with them to get the ‘OC Experience’ out there.”

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