A legal dispute over the process used to solicit a new operator for Boardwalk Hall has stymied the management transition and caused the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority to extend a contract for the hall’s current operator through March.

Marking what would be the first management change at the historic entertainment venue in almost 20 years, ACCVA voted in December to award the contact to Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, whose parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, owns the Wells Fargo Center. Within days, current operator SMG filed a formal dispute letter outlining grounds for protest and requesting a hearing.

To date, none has been set. Until one takes place, action is frozen as the request for a hearing bans ACCVA from moving forward with the new operator, said authority President Jeff Vasser, who attributed the delay to a wait in getting an impartial hearing officer assigned by the state.

“What I assume they will say is that our process was fair, and that’s the end of it. At this point, we’re just in a holding pattern,” Vasser said. He said he expects a hearing officer to be assigned within the next couple of weeks.

SMG officials, however, said they were not clear what has held up the process. In January, the firm objected when it was told Vasser would be the hearing officer, a move the company said would create a conflict of interest, according to letters provided to The Press of Atlantic City.

“Both board and committee conflicts combined with failure to file required forms and follow procedure in accord with state statute, executive orders and the authority’s own rules creates a pattern that is beyond troubling and demands a fix,” said John Samerjan, a consultant representing SMG.

SMG has argued that Global Spectrum failed to disclose conflicts of interest that gave the firm an advantage in obtaining the contract. It also believes the committee that chose the new operator was flawed, because it included heads of the Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, neither of which currently has a formal role in ACCVA operations. ACCVA, however, has said it’s not uncommon to collaborate.

In a Jan. 27 letter to the authority, SMG also takes issue with ACCVA board member Dave Coskey’s involvement in the decision when the board voted unanimously to hire Global Spectrum. Coskey, who is president of Longport Media, held various executive positions within Comcast-Spectacor, including president of marketing when he left the company in 2005.

“Coskey made the motion to the board to approve the award to Global. This raises a conflict of interest and the appearance, if not existence of impropriety in violation of the well-established law in New Jersey requiring fair, open, and transparent, public procurement,” the letter reads.

Vasser, however, said Coskey’s past employment history was vetted ahead of the vote with authority attorneys who determined there was no conflict.

“It was looked at ahead of time, and it was deemed not to be a problem,” Vasser said. “He was with the Flyers and Sixers, not with Global Spectrum.”

Before the award, almost two dozen people turned out at an ACCVA meeting, calling on the authority to continue its relationship with the hall’s current operator. The mix of emergency personal, local leaders and union officials spoke of the merits of the company and the strong relationships built in the firm’s long relationship with the city.

The firm managing Boardwalk Hall is responsible for daily operations as well as bookings for the venue.

Officials have said Global Spectrum plans to keep the majority of the employees. The hall has 125 to 150 employees covered under 15 union contracts.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

609-272-7239

Follow Jennifer Bogdan on Twitter @ACPressJennifer