Wednesday, February 21, 2024


City Needs Additional $3.1 Million to Build Convention Hall


By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — The city needs to pass a second bond ordinance for $3.1 million to build a new Convention Hall here with a cost of $13.6 million.
Voters approved a bond ordinance in 2008 for $10.5 million but bids for the project have been over $12 million which does not include all costs.
At a town meeting June 24, City Manager Bruce MacLeod said a grant of $1.5 million is expected from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and an $80,000 energy rebate from the state. He said the city would have debt service for a new Convention Hall of $11.6 million.
Auditor Leon Costello said the city would hold its next bond sale in 2013 and the hall would be financed by bond anticipation notes until that time. He said the new plan for financing would split bond sales of the city’s normal capital improvement budget of $6 million to 2014 and $11.6 million for Convention Hall to 2013.
The plan to fund normal city projects plus a new Convention Hall would cause a tax increase of 2.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value for taxpayers in 2014. He said that was the worse case scenario.
Costello said the city would be retiring other debt and he anticipated only a 1-cent tax increase due to the Convention Hall project. He said the city would be basically debt free by 2019 other than some smaller issues.
Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr. said nothing has been taken out of the plans for the hall since a February town meeting just some rearrangement of features. He said doubling the amount of restrooms, providing heating and air conditioning systems to the hall’s retail and restaurant space, adding a mezzanine to the restaurant space, enlarging the catering kitchen and information booth and moving the entire facility 24-feet closer to Beach Avenue at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection added $2 million to the price tag of a new Convention Hall.
Architect Martin Kimmel said after all bids received for the project March 30 were over budget, a total of $750,000 of construction costs were cut:
• Move three community rooms that overhung the hall on the second floor on a balcony. The rooms were reconfigured by reducing size of administrative offices. Balcony was eliminated.
• Redesign heating and cooling system to not include geothermal for main hall instead using a standard rooftop system. Geothermal remains for rest of building.
• Make lighting for building separate from bid package.
Kimmel said there was nothing left to cut from the plan. He said the city had spent $800,000 in engineering fees on the project in the past three years.
Kimmel said there weren’t enough cost savings to justify heating and cooling the main hall by a geothermal system since it was designed for a large audience being present in the room at all times.
Of nine bids received for the hall, the lowest base bid was $12.5 million from Domus Construction, which did not include alternate items.
MacLeod said the bid packages contained eight alternatives items: a wave ceiling for the lobby, awnings and lights for building exterior, audio-visual equipment, a chair riser platform for main hall since stage is at floor level, barrier fence for roller skating, wind turbines, T-fixture bollard for Promenade area and motor hoists for stage lighting.
He said bids did not include the owner’s budget at $750,000, which includes security, telephone equipment, and a contingency budget at $450,000 plus the cost of furniture, fixtures and office equipment. MacLeod said those items add $1.4 million bringing the total to $13.9 million.
Four of the alternate items could be set aside and added to the building at a later time saving $297,000: the roller skating fence, wind turbines, bollards on the Promenade and motor hoists for stage lights, said MacLeod. That would lower the project cost to $13.6 million, he said.
MacLeod said a new Convention Hall would measure close to 32,000 square feet with a construction cost of $392 per square foot. Among the top four bidders, there was less than a $400,000 difference in bid prices, he said.
During a question and answer period in the three hour meeting, Councilman-elect Bill Murray asked residents to send him an email with their thoughts on passing an additional $3.1 million bond at He said while campaigning, residents were adamant the city needs to live within its means.
“This town without a Convention Hall is like a body without a head,” said resident Barry Cohen.
He said he believed Cape May would die without a Convention Hall.
Andrew Bulakowski, vice president of the Carpenter’s Union of Cape May County, said construction costs were down at this time and the longer the project is delayed, the higher will be the costs. He said the project would create local jobs.
Real estate broker and Washington Street Mall merchant Paul Andrus said he believed the Convention Hall project should be “scaled back.” He suggested demolishing the old hall “tomorrow” and putting up some time of open-air facility in the meantime.
Andrus suggested the city include purchasing the Beach Theatre as part of the plan. Mahaney said redesigning Convention Hall would incur another $800,00 in fees.
The mayor said a smaller building would not have revenue from three retail spaces and a restaurant.
Bill Causey, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, said a new Convention Hall was needed now because the city was a tourist community.
Resident Barbara Skinner echoed Andrus’ comment of purchasing the Beach Theatre and down size the Convention Hall design. Mahaney said the city did not have the money to buy the theater, which could add another $10 million to $15 million to the total project.
Resident Christine Miller suggested the city reduce its other capital projects estimated to cost $6 million to $3 million as a cost savings.

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