Fewer big conventions cut into center’s income|[01/24/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Vicksburg Convention Center ended its first fiscal quarter with lower income than the previous year — mainly because of the lack of larger conventions, Norman Ford, director of business and operations, told the advisory board of the VCC and Vicksburg Auditorium.

Numbers show the Mulberry Street facility brought in $63,653 for the last three months of 2007 compared to $96,510 in rentals for the last three months of 2006. Income, however, was strong enough to offset the operating deficit, which was $206,740 opposed to the $228,590 budgeted.

“Our income is down, but our expenses are down, too,” Ford said.

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Larry Gawronski, executive director of the buildings, managed by VenuWorks, told the board that larger conventions are planned for the next quarter, which will help make up for the lower income this time.

“When we meet again in April, our January, February and March (numbers) will be way up,” he said. “In February, we have every day booked except Feb. 4 and Feb. 24. It’s a great time.”

The auditorium had higher income — $50,939 up from the previous $45,823 — and expenses that were in line with previous years, Ford added. Throughout the first fiscal quarter the convention center and auditorium had 58 events, which included five banquets, three consumer shows, 26 meetings, 20 receptions, three spectator events and a multiday conference/convention.

Gawronski said within the next month the VCC will have permanent audio/visual equipment installed in meeting rooms to replace the portable equipment that has been used since the center opened in 1996. The equipment will include drop-down screens.

“We’re keeping up with the Joneses, but also adding value,” he said.

The center also plans to have an outside marquee to advertise events. Other improvements will include software upgrades, stage pieces, lighting equipment, storage racks and table skirts and a utility cart to move between the building and storage facility.

The center, on Mulberry Street, was built with a $10 million municipal bond issue that has been paid off. A 2 percent tax on rooms rented by the night was left in place to continue supporting the center’s operating supplement from Vicksburg’s general fund.

In other business, the advisers:

* Heard from Gawronski about how the VCC and auditorium were named Best of the Best in Convention South magazine. It was a fourth and third consecutive time, respectively. Four employees were also named Meeting Professionals to Watch in 2008 out of the 67 named in the publication.

* Were introduced to Paul Caudillo, an owner of Annabelle Bed and Breakfast, as a new sales representative.

* Heard plans on how the staff is continuing to “do more with less” by making a 25 percent net deduction and internally reorganizing.

* Heard from Gawronski that this year’s entertainment for the Vicksburg Independence Day Celebration will be Still Surfin’, a Beach Boys tribute band. He added that the theme would be “beach party” and theme-oriented events will be featured.

* Heard from member Pat Hopson about two events, both scheduled for June 12. Blues artist B.B. King is scheduled to perform at the center, while the Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant is also slated for the same date at the auditorium.

* Heard from Erin Powell, who presented a check for $1,531.32 to Melanie Roach, an owner of McDonalds in Vicksburg, to give to the Ronald McDonald Foundation. The money was raised at the sixth annual Festival of Trees in November.