Convention center bookings down for quarter

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, July 22, 2010

Despite a third quarter in the black, Vicksburg Convention Center attendance and usage are lagging 2009 figures heading into the final quarter, Larry Gawronski reported Wednesday.

“That means less meetings, it means less frequency of those meetings and a shorter duration when they’re meeting,” said Gawronski, executive director of VenuWorks, with which the city contracts to operate the convention center and Vicksburg Auditorium. The number also translates into fewer hotel stays.

A total of 47 events were held at the facilities in the three-month quarter ending in June, down from 52 events in the same period last year. Most of the events were banquets and meetings, while spectator events included the Alcorn State University Jazz Festival, TNA Wrestling and the Miss Mississippi Outstanding Teen Pageant.

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Collective revenues at the facilities exceeded budget expectations by 7 percent in the third quarter, and expenses also were held under budget. That led to a net operating surplus of $1,582 at the convention center, which accounts for the bulk of the two facilities’ overall business and revenue. A $35,461 net operating loss had been expected. City funds supplement operational losses.

“That turnaround of $37,000 was phenomenal, but we’re tempered by the fact that we’re 12 percent off our budget for the year,” Gawronski said. “So we’ve got some catching up to do over our last three months.”

However, aside from the recent Miss Mississippi Pageant — the convention center’s strongest event each year — Gawronski acknowledged the months of July through September are generally not the highest performing.

“We hunker back and we try to make ends meet in August and September,” he said. “We’ve got to just continue to do… good budgeting and take appropriate steps to watch our expenses.”

City funding was $342,291 to the venues last fiscal year not including a 2 percent tax levied on all hotel, motel and bed and breakfast stays that is budgeted to bring in $440,000 this fiscal year. While lodging tax revenues were 20 percent higher than anticipated in the third quarter, year-to-date figures are still 4 percent under budget projections.

The balance of operating costs is paid by customers. Year-to-date income at the convention center stands at about $322,300, while the auditorium has brought in roughly $75,850 — about $8,000 more than was budgeted for the entire year. Gawronski said that’s because many events that normally would be staged at the convention center, such as concerts and spectator shows, are being shifted to the auditorium.

New spectator shows coming in the fourth quarter include the Greeks of Comedy Tour on Aug. 21 at the convention center, and Rob Lake: A Night of Magic at the auditorium on Aug. 28. Tickets for both events are on sale at the convention center box office.

Advisory board members present Wednesday were Cliff Whitney III, Brenda Love, Winky Freeman, Benny Terrell, Bill Seratt, Bobby Bailess, Skipper Guizerix, Eddie Monsour and Gwen Edris.