CAPE MAY – Voting 3-2, City Council put the brakes on approving an additional bond for $3.2 million to build a new Convention Hall here.
Council will begin working with architect Martin Kimmel to create a design for a smaller, less expensive facility.
There were no surprises in the voting. New councilpersons Jack Wichterman, Deanna Fiocca and Bill Murray kept their campaign promise of a smaller, less expensive Convention Hall. Murray noted the city may have to exceed a $10.5 million bond approved by voters to build a smaller Convention Hall.
A standing room only audience applauded and cheered at the defeat of the $3.1 million additional bond.
Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr. and Councilwoman Terri Swain voted for the $3.1 million bond. Two hours of public comment was taken before the vote.
Prior to the vote, Wichterman said the three new councilpersons, following their election, sat in with the outgoing council and learned a number of new details about the Convention Hall project. He said Kimmel told council 40 to 60 percent of drawings for the larger facility could be applied to a smaller design.
Wichterman said the city received an email from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stating if the city reverted to a smaller footprint for the hall, it would not have to apply for an additional CAFRA Permit.
He said the city could have a smaller, new Convention Hall up and running by Memorial Day 2012, according to Kimmel.
Wichterman said council did not know at this point how much building it can get for $10.5 million.
He noted a number of items were added on after the voter referendum that approved the first bond including geothermal systems, additional restrooms, enlarging the kitchen and moving the building 24 feet towards Beach Avenue as required by DEP for a CAFRA permit rather than occupying virgin beach.
Prior to the vote, Murray said the proposed Convention Hall “was probably too big for our town.” He said the design needed to be scaled back to conform to the needs of Cape May.
Murray warned that the public cannot “nitpick” on every little detail of the design of a new hall. He said the city needed to proceed with a new design and construction without delay. The present Convention Hall is “a festering sore casting a repugnant shadow on the vitality and beauty of our town,” he said.
He called for detailed drawings and bid specifications to be ready by March 2011 with a contract awarded in May 2011 and construction starting in June.
Fiocca said she believed the Convention Hall vote was the most important one she would cast in her term on council. She said she would not shirk her responsibilities and let the issue go to a voter referendum.
Swain said she has heard mixed opinions on the issue. She said fear tactics had been used.
“I’m really upset this town has gotten so divided,” said Swain.
Mahaney noted seven town meetings were held on the Convention Hall project in the past two years. He said the hall was designed to the public’s specifications and noted the lowest bid came in at $13.6 million.
Based on his interaction with all segments of the Cape May Community, the mayor said he believed the majority of voters still were in favor of building the larger facility because it “was essential for the maintenance of the expected quality of life for residents and business persons as well as the sustainability of an economic climate in which we can all still afford to live here.”
Mahaney said the $3.1 million bond ordinance was crucial to the economic sustainability of Cape May for residents, businesspersons and as a premiere tourist destination. Combined with a city tourism utility, the larger hall would give Cape May a niche in the tourist industry while still serving residents with community events.
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