Convention Center sees positives ahead

Published 8:46 am Saturday, October 31, 2015

Even at a financial deficit at the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the Vicksburg Convention Center board and staff are positive about the direction they are headed.

The convention center was used 182 days during this fiscal year with a total attendance of 53,135 making a $6.5 million economic impact on the city. Julie Ford, sales and marketing manager of the VCC, said economic impact has grown a lot from last year due to conventions.

“Last year we had 16 percent of our business was conventions. This year 30 percent of our business was conventions,” Ford said. “That’s why there’s such a huge increase in the economic impact, which that’s our goal is the economic impact to the city of Vicksburg.”

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Financially the convention center was at a deficit of $22,996. While the center’s income was less than the budget anticipated by $34,646 and the operating expenses were higher by $17,020, the actual lodging tax revenue earned $28,770 more than the expected amount.

The deficit is in large part due to extensive repairs the building has undergone due to the facility’s age including the elevator, enhancing the WiFi, painting the walls, updating the restrooms, ADA handicap accessible doors and much more. Those repairs, some planned in the budget and some not, cost $2,000 more than the actual deficit.

“We’re repairing the building,” VCC executive director Annette Kirkland said. “We can not let things break and not fix it. It’s a part of making this facility work so we have to make sure those things are fixed.”

Kirkland was positive about the outcome of the budget because other statistics are up compared to last year. Attendance was up 22 percent and income was up 4 percent from last year’s numbers. Food and beverage figures were also on the rise with Palmertree Catering’s gross sales being $3,042 more than the previous year.

Last year was the first year in its 17-year history the convention center closed the fiscal year in the black ending the 2013-2014 year with a $7,010 surplus.

Special guest speakers Tim Reeves, publisher at The Vicksburg Post; David Campbell, assistant superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District and Susan Mandarino, vice president of marketing at Mutual Credit Union spoke about their interactions with the convention center facility and staff and how they have met their goal by going beyond expectations.

Mandario said she has been to convention centers in cities all over the country, but the facility here was just as good as, if not better than, the convention centers in Atlanta and beyond. She appreciated the help the staff of the VCC offered her to help plan their annual meeting so she could focus on her job of generating reports.

“They have made using the convention center easy, and I think one of the biggest benefits that we have here is they have helped connect different parts of the city that we’ve not always had connected,” Mandario said. “They give us an opportunity to become more involved in the community.”

Campbell was impressed by the conventions center’s fast work to host both high schools’ graduations on the same day due to rain making the schools’ stadiums impractical. He said the school system plans to have both graduations at the convention center again this school year.

“Seeing the staff, the way that they interact with our guests, the way they interact with us when we may have some last minute things that need to be done, they always do that and take care of it,” Campbell said.

Reeves spoke of The Post’s efforts to sponsor convention center events and the partnership Vicksburg Newsmedia’s Signs First had with the convention center to adorn the city’s motor coach with images that represent Vicksburg.

“The convention center is the crown jewel of Vicksburg. In many ways it is on the front line of welcoming people to Vicksburg,” Reeves said.

In other news, the board discussed a few other topics in addition to the end of the annual fiscal year report.

Benny M. Terrell was approved as the chairman of the convention center advisory board and Alison Hopson was approved as vice chairman.

Former Vicksburg Mayor John D. Holland’s daughter made a request to have a plaque installed at the convention center and to have the center named for him because of his work to bring the Miss Mississippi pageant to Vicksburg. The board had questions on the location and size of the plaque as well as precedent. In the end they approved the idea of a plaque but requested it be placed elsewhere. The city will have the final say.

More repairs and improvements to the facility are on tap for next year including the roof, windows and the lighting control system.