VCC closes fiscal year with surplus

Published 12:15 pm Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Vicksburg Convention Center is closing the fiscal year in the black for the first time in its 17-year history.

Executive director Annette Kirklin said the center finished fiscal 2014 with a $7,010 balance, adding, “thank you Vicksburg.”

“I feel personally we are going beyond our expectations,” she told the more than 20 people attending the convention center Advisory Board’s annual meeting Wednesday at the convention center.

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When she found out about the positive balance, Kirklin said after the meeting, “I couldn’t get the smile off my face. It’s a milestone that we really feel good about. It just means that everybody has such a great attitude about coming together, and it shows. People came to support us.”

According to the convention center’s annual report, the center’s income for the year was $404,985, under its projected $456,543 in revenue, while expenses were $927,092, which was below the projected $943,543.

Revenue from the 2 percent bed tax that forms the bulk of the center’s revenue stream, was $529,116, $42,116 more than the projected $487,000 for 2014.

The economic impact on the city from the center’s events, Kirklin said, was $4.85 million, while direct spending from the events was $2.85 million. The total event attendance was 43,154, with the center in use for 196 days during the year. The center staff projected 160 event use days, she said.

The improved numbers mean Ames, Iowa-based VenueWorks, which has a management contract with the city to operate the center, is in line for several bonus payments.

Under the contract between the city and VenuWorks, which was approved October 2013, the company receives a $5,000 bonus if the convention center exceeds the number of events projected in the center’s approved annual business plan and budget by 10 percent.

It receives an extra $5,000 if it exceeds the number of events by 15 percent, an additional $5,000 if event attendance figures exceed projected figures for the year by 10 percent, and another $5,000 if attendance exceeds projections by 15 percent.

VenuWorks also receives an extra $10,000 for any fiscal year it operates the convention center with a budget that requires no city subsidy other than the revenue from the 2 percent hotel tax dedicated to the convention center. The city did not supplement the center’s budget for 2014.

The convention center opened in 1997, and until Wednesday has needed money from the city ranging from about $250,000 to $400,000 a year to supplement the center’s income from the 2 percent bed tax.

According to city records, the convention in 2012 had a $28,448 deficit despite receiving about $650,000 in bed tax revenue because of the outage project at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant that ran from January to July 2012 and employed about 14,000 people, most of whom stayed in Vicksburg.

In 2013, the deficit was $85,297. The center received between $450,000 to $487,000 in bed tax revenue.

Kirklin said the total amount of VenuWorks’ bonus had not been determined.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had such a cohesive effort,” center Advisory Board chairman Skipper Guizerix said, commending the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, support from the community and the city.

“It’s incredible. You can get so much more done when you have a team,” he said. “I’m not sure we always had that, but we certainly have that now.”

“It’s always fun at the end of the year and come to celebrate, because it doesn’t happen very often across the country with convention centers, so this is something to be proud of,” Venue Works senior vice president Tammy Koolbeck said.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. commended Kirklin and the staff, saying the convention center’s success was an example for the city.

“This exemplifies what Vicksburg can really be when we work as a team; when we promote our city,” Flaggs said. “This is just one of many ways we can exceed our expectations (for the city). I just absolutely believe Vicksburg is going to become the best city in the state … everything we do in Vicksburg is going to be a model for the state.”

The city hired VenuWorks in 2001 to operate the center and the Vicksburg Auditorium. The contract was renewed for five years in 2011 and renegotiated last year to include incentives and put the Vicksburg Auditorium back under the city’s management.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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