The Wicomico Civic Center will soon shed its dated 1970s appearance thanks to a $5.5 million federal grant that will pay for major upgrades to the 43-year-old facility.
The American Rescue Plan money awarded through the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration will be combined with $1.4 million in state and local funds already in hand, Acting Wicomico County Executive John Psota said during a May 19 news announcement.
“The planned improvement will total $6.9 million, representing the single largest investment in this building in over 40 years,” he said.
Plans designed by the Becker Morgan Group, a Salisbury-based architectural and engineering firm, include an expanded box office and lobby, safety barriers along the north and west sides of the building, improved wayfinding, improved Americans with Disabilities Act access to the building, an expanded food court and better connectivity between the Civic Center and the Wicomico High School campus.
“We are hopeful that the EDA’s investment, along with other investments being made in the county and the city, will spur additional investment in the community and continue to create local jobs and promote additional economic activity through the events held here,” Psota said.
Bill Chambers, who serves as President and CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, and as the Tourism & Civic Center Commission President, said the grant award will help make the civic center more competitive, help attract new events, create local jobs and generate more tax revenue for the county.
“This truly is a game-changer for Wicomico County and the civic center,” he said.
The county has had plans to renovate the building for several years, but until now lacked the funding to complete all of the work.
In 2016, the old lime green seats and bright blue doors left over from the building’s construction in 1979 were replaced. New seating upholstered in charcoal was installed and tile floors were replaced with carpeting.
The renovations also included the installation of lower-tier seats in the Normandy Arena that can be retracted electronically.
At the time, the work was the first major rehabilitation of the facility since it was built in 1979 to replace a building that was destroyed by fire in 1977.
The same year that the seating was replaced, the civic center won the ability to dispense beer, wine and liquor at concerts, sports events and private parties for the first time in its history.
For years, there was a commonly held belief that the county could not sell or distribute alcohol on the property because it was a condition set by the late S. Franklyn Woodcock and his wife Elizabeth when they donated 39 acres to the county for the facility and a veterans war memorial in 1946.
But deed research showed the Woodcocks had released any rights they had in the property when the land was conveyed in 1959 to the Wicomico County War Memorial Builders Inc., an entity established to raise money for a civic center.
But in 1971, when the Wicomico County War Memorial Builders conveyed the property back to the county, it was without an alcohol covenant.
After the deed research concluded the civic center could have been selling alcohol all along, it was finally awarded a liquor license in 2016.