Katrina boosts VCVB income|[3/1/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Compass contract a done deal for two years.

The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will have new management and, as a result of a devastating storm, more money to spend on tourism development.

&#8220Y’all have done very well,” the bureau’s auditor Alison Whitney of The Halford Firm PLLC, told board members Tuesday, reporting a $180,874 balance at the end of 2005, up 153 percent over 2004. &#8220You can actually thank Hurricane Katrina for this.”

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The agency receives most of its funding from a 1 percent tax on hotel stays and restaurant and bar bills. While leisure travel took a hit from Katrina when it hit the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts six months ago, evacuees filled hotels for weeks and, of course, kept restaurants busy, too.

Whitney said the sales tax rebate, which normally generates about $1 million per year from the state Tax Commission, increased 17 percent. &#8220Your cash position is great,” she said.

By a 5-3 margin, members, as expected, also voted to enter a two-year management contract with Compass of Vicksburg, a subsidiary of Compass Facility Management which has operated the Vicksburg Convention Center and Vicksburg Auditorium for four years.

Bobby Bailess, Bill Collins, Patty Cappaert, Lamar Roberts and David Maggio favored the deal, while members Bobbie Morrow, Omar Nelson and Bobby Doyle voted against it.

Board members Jessica Williams and Jo Wilson were absent from the meeting and Tim Darden did not vote.

The split continued disagreement in votes since December on whether to hire a person or a firm to direct agency work.

&#8220We were able to get final revisions made to the contract,” Darden said. &#8220All parties are in agreement that the final revisions have been made.”

Darden said the contract will begin March 8. On that day Compass is also set to extend its contract with the city until 2011, said Larry Gawronski, executive director for Compass here and a principal in the Iowa-based firm. Compass and the city have had a five-year contract which would expire in September.

Because the city is paying Compass $10,800 per month to run its facilities and Compass agreed to the VCVB deal at no added charge, board members had wondered what would happen if the city did not renew.

&#8220I know that was one of the biggest items of concern,” Darden said.

He said the VCVB contract with Compass would be signed following the renewal of Compass’ contract with the city.

Following the meeting, Darden said he thinks the board, which has remained divided on the issue of executive director, will be able to come together. &#8220Ultimately I think the Compass contract has been the biggest conflict,” Darden said. &#8220Once this is a done deal, we should get the operation of the VCVB and the board on the same sheet of music.”

In October, the Vicksburg Hotel & Lodging Association said it would endorse a 1-cent increase in the hotel and restaurant tax, all of which would go to the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. Shortly thereafter, VCVB board members discussed the issue, but no action was taken.

Member Omar Nelson agreed to write a resolution, on behalf of the board, to send to the Legislature endorsing the increase.

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