VCC board adopts $2M budget for new year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

[06/19/02]A budget projecting expenses of nearly $2.2 million was approved and recommended to the City of Vicksburg to operate the Vicksburg Convention Center and Vicksburg Auditorium for the new year starting in October.

The 5-year-old, $13 million center and the 50-year-old auditorium have been managed by Compass Facilities Inc. since April 2001.

The Ames, Iowa, company was hired in the waning days of the last city administration to take over foundering operations in which rental revenue was nowhere near expectations and taxpayer subsidies were rising.

With about 13 months of a five-year contract behind it, the Compass staff headed by Larry Gawronski, presented its first real budget to the members of the lay advisory board that is appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen.

Gawronski said awarding the contract for food and beverage service to Riverside Food Service of Vicksburg effective Nov. 1 had been a bright spot, enhancing income. MMI Dining Services of Jackson had provided those services since the center opened in 1997.

Both Gawronski and Business and Operations Director Norman Ford credited Riverside’s food and service during the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame banquet in April with winning approval from the organizers to have the event in Vicksburg in 2003. Gawronski said Vicksburg beat Hattiesburg, Jackson and the Silver Star Casino for the contract.

Gawronski also told the board the goals were to broaden sales and marketing efforts, fill more of the days when there are no other events booked and continue tight financial reporting and management of the center and auditorium.

Among plans mentioned by Sales and Marketing Director Suzanne Singletary was a proposal to partner with the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and others in the local hospitality industry on blitzes that will target associations and businesses in the drive market. She said the blitzes could include samples of local cuisine to increase the impact.

She also mentioned some in-house productions including the Festival of Trees planned as a fund-raiser for the United Way of West Central Mississippi in November; an outdoor show in November and a bridal fair and fashion show planned in January.

In presenting the budget, Ford said the city’s subsidy should drop from $740,671 projected for this year to $670,000 in the new year.

Part of that will come from the city’s 2 percent tax on rooms rented by the night and the rest from general funds. In FY 2001, the city received $376,392 and used that amount to help fund the subsidy paid to Compass. Through April, the city received $177,546.96, down from $190,000 received through the same period in FY 2001.

In addition to the subsidy, the center expects to receive $160,000 from space rental, $50,000 for equipment rental, $6,000 from support and third-party services, $110,000 from in-house promotions, $6,000 from insurance sold to users, $15,000 for reimbursement for services, $6,500 from miscellaneous sources and $80,000 from food and beverage sales.

There are major increases in capital expenses, totaling a little more than $1.1 million in the new budget as compared to $300,000 for this year.

“People have said the air conditioning system is intrusive,” Ford said. “When it’s on, you freeze and when it’s off you’re hot.”

As a result, the budget calls for spending $125,000 to improve the system.

Another major expense proposed is $500,000 to waterproof the entire convention center, Ford said, pointing out it was not done when the building was built.

Another major expenditure planned is the purchase of 1,250 chairs, Ford said, explaining the new chairs will be narrower and better for banquet seating. They will also have folding seats that are more useful for theater-type seating.

Also under expenses is a listing of $503,200 for personal services that includes salaries for full-time, part-time and event employees and taxes and benefits. That’s up from the $465,659 budgeted for this year.

For its services Compass has received a base management fee of $100,000 with the opportunity to earn incentive increases up to another $30,000. For the new year, the budget shows a management fee of $120,000.

When the city opened the center in 1997, it had a $10 million bonded debt. As of now, the city still owes $4,625,000 and will make the last payment on April 1, 2006.