New Convention Hall
The Centerpiece of
Cape May's Economic
By Edward J, Mahaney, Jr.
Mayor, Cape May City
As our most visible public improvement and economic development initiative, the multi-purpose Cape May Convention Hall celebrated its Grand Opening on Memorial Day weekend 2012. Four years ago, City Council provided an open process by holding five town meetings to give the public an opportunity to voice input on the location, uses, programs, design, name, construction, and cost of the new Convention Hall. The outcome is a $10.5 million facility, funded by Cape May City taxpayers and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA).
Serving primarily as a community center, this facility can also host conferences, small conventions and performing arts events. Based on public input, this new venue will continue to host traditional events, including roller skating, craft shows, general exhibitions, dances, concerts and theatrical performances. As testimony to the state-of-the-art technology of this new facility, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops were featured in a sold-out, sensational
Grand Opening Gala Fundraising Concert on May 26. In a partnership agreement with the city, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is promoting a series of eight concerts featuring nationally-known musical artists, as well as five professional children’s theatre productions this summer.
Designed and built to the Silver LEEDs level with solar panels on the roof, the new 20,000 square foot, beachfront Convention Hall represents an investment in the economic development of our community. We expect the new hall to support our effort to expand Cape May’s economy to a 10.5 month season (as opposed to the standard 12-week season in most seashore resorts). We also hope it will secure Cape May’s niche as a premier tourist destination.
The new Convention Hall is the result of a systematic sustainability approach that the city plans to pursue over the next two decades. This plan combines our long-range planning agenda with our long-term financial and capital planning programs. City Council is committed to pursuing economic and community development through tourism. The sustainability plan was developed through an
ongoing 2009 partnership between the City of Cape May and the Temple University School of Tourism and
Citizens and visitors to Cape May gather in front of the new convention center for a re-creation of the famous 1905 automobile beach races in Cape May between Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet—only this time as a “race” of energy efficiency with the latest hybrid and electric cars from Ford and Chevrolet.
Temple personnel worked with officials and staff, business leaders, residents, and visitors in Cape May to reach five goals in time for the Grand Opening of Convention Hall:
- Development of a long-range plan to ensure the improved visibility of Cape May as a tourist destination in regional, national and international markets while assuring that the
residential population can continue to enjoy a high quality of life and can continue to afford to live in Cape May.
- Creation of a sustainable framework for Cape May to monitor visitor profiles, track visitor satisfaction, and evaluate advertising effectiveness.
- Creation of a self-sustaining, business plan for Convention Hall that will provide the necessary resources for full implementation of past practices, as well as future usages.
- Provision of technical assistance in the establishment of a new and functionally expanded Department of Tourism, Civic Affairs and Recreation.
- Provision of management training for the multi-purpose, state-of-the-art Convention Hall (especially the performing arts). Training includes presentation of the business plan, along with customer service training, facility management and event leadership.
As a result of our partnership agreement with Temple and the long-range sustainability plan, City Council established a Tourism Utility by ordinance beginning in 2012. Our Tourism Utility has already resulted in a more comprehensive approach to the marketing of Cape May as a year-round destination by our public and private sectors. Within this Utility, City Council authorized a new and expanded Department of Tourism, Civic Affairs and Recreation. The new department will manage and operate all recreation programs and special events (including those at Convention Hall). It will include our public information office and the marketing and promoting of tourism for Cape May.
Our utility is not an autonomous authority, but rather a separate division of city government, under the direction of City Council and the city manager. By ordinance, City Council also created the Advisory Committee on Tourism to assist and advise the city and coordinate all programs relating to tourism. This Advisory Committee consists of one representative each from 17 business, residential/civic, and non-profit program groups.
Financially, our city now has the capability to designate all cost centers and subsequent expenses for marketing, promotion and operations of recreation and tourism-related programs, activities, and initiatives to a centralized and isolated utility. Our expenses will be balanced by revenue from recreation and tourism programs, activities and initiatives. Revenue sources include: user fees from the rental and use of Convention Hall; rent from the leasing of Convention Hall to commercial stores; concession fees derived from the use of Convention Hall; fees for recreational and civic programs; surcharge fees on specified mercantile licenses; specified portion of occupancy tax revenue; and advertising income. Thus, the individuals, groups and organizations that benefit from our recreation and tourism activities and events will be paying the costs for the programs and initiatives.
The new utility will ensure that the costs of tourism don’t fall on the non-participating residential and commercial taxpayers through the city’s annual budget and related capital improvement budget. We expect to see a steady increase in the amount of relevant expenses transferred annually to the Tourism Utility over a four to five year period.
Creation of the Tourism Utility reflects the City Council’s long-term commitment to assign the expenses of specific programs and services to isolated cost centers that can tap specific revenue sources. This way those who benefit from and use the services of the utility will be responsible for the utility’s financial support. Our Tourism Utility provides fiscal and operational accountability to City Council and the taxpayers. Cape May has successfully operated its own Water and Sewer Utility and Beach Utility in the same fashion for many years.
The City of Cape May has positioned itself to ensure the sustainability of the programs and services that our taxpaying public and visitors will require and expect in the future. City Council is embracing this opportunity to solidify and expand the economic foundation of Cape May. A solid economy will make Cape May a premier location for visitors, workers and residents.
First published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 7, October 2012