VCVB wants to buy downtown offices

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 25, 2001

The Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau offices at the corner of Washington and Clay streets. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[05/25/01] The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau may soon own the building on Washington Street where it has had its main office since 1995.

In other matters at the Thursday meeting of the VCVB board, Steve Peters and Larry Gawronski discussed plans Compass Facility Management has for the Vicksburg Convention Center.

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VCVB staff were based at the welcome center across from the entrance to the Vicksburg National Military Park until outgrowing that building.

For six years, administrators have been in the former First Federal Savings & Loan, later Unifirst, building at 1221 Washington. They’ve been paying the building’s owner, Trustmark National Bank, $24,000 a year in rent.

Directors Bobby Bailess and Eric Biedenharn said there is no specific authority in the legislation that created VCVB to engage in long-term financing. So, he said, to buy the building an alternative arrangement will be needed.

“Eric and I propose we prepare a list of questions so we can get all the (lenders) quoting on the same thing,” he said.

Following a discussion, the other board members voted to send Bailess and Biedenharn, with board chairman J. Mack Varner acting as a third committee member, to talk with Trustmark about buying the building from them. The committee was also given the authority to negotiate a purchase price and financing.

In remarks to reintroduce himself, Gawronski and Compass to the VCVB, Peters said the 5-year-old company specializes in managing convention centers, arenas and similar buildings in secondary and tertiary markets, making them a good fit for the Vicksburg Convention Center. Most of the facilities they manage have been in the upper midwest but they hope to have buildings in the Florida panhandle and south Louisiana under contract soon.

The private management firm was hired by the City of Vicksburg to manage its four-year-old center that has not performed to expectations under city management.

“We have just come from Nashville where we have picked up some shows, including a Christmas show, that we could put in here,” Peters said.

He reiterated that Compass’ goal is to maximize the use of the convention center with an emphasis on bringing in out-of-town users while having a number of events to bring local people to the center, also.

Gawronski, who was actually a city employee and the Vicksburg center’s first director, told the board he planned to submit the marketing plan for the center to the Mayor and Aldermen next week along with a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year followed by one for the upcoming fiscal year.

Lenore Barkley, executive director of the VCVB, reported the check for the special sales tax that supports the bureau received this month was for $63,816, down $10,815 from May 2000. Much of the difference is due to an arrearage caused by a state error and being reclaimed by the state.