No improvements, no show.
So said some big dollar trade show hosts last year after tolerating the state-owned Mississippi Trade Mart`s peeling paint, leaky roof and not-so-desirable bathrooms.
But Trade Mart manager Danny Stegall hopes these hosts will have a change of heart thanks to a $3 million infusion by the 1997 Legislature. The first phase of renovations is now winding up with some subtle but important improvements – doors that actually lock, new bathrooms and fresh paint throughout.
“People come in and say, `What happened to the yellow and brown?`” said Stegall, who hopes the improvements will save some shows almost lost to the disrepair, and attract new ones to Jackson.
Wholesale hardware company HDW Inc. was one the Trade Mart almost lost after its March 1997 show that one employee called a “disaster.” After that show, organizer Mary Ann Burton of HDW`s Greenwood operation Henderson & Baird Hardware Co. complained the air conditioning did not work in some parts of the building, the bathrooms were unacceptable and HDW needed more and cleaner meeting rooms.
“It`s a reflection on our company,” she said.
HDW did return for another show in 1998 just as renovations were starting, but Burton is making no firm promises for a 1999 show until she checks out the improvements.
Beau Whittington, president of Convention Display Service Inc., was relieved to see HDW and its dollars stay in Mississippi. At the March show, HDW spent at least $200,000 for facility rental, caterers and other show costs, not to mention the money spent by exhibitors and visitors on gas, lodging, shopping and restaurants.
“HDW is the kind of business a convention and visitors bureau does backflips to try and get, and they were getting ready to pack their bags and move out,” said Whittington, who was deeply involved in trying to persuade legislators to fund Trade Mart renovations.
Rep. Charlie Williams (R-Senatobia) authored the 1997 bill calling for capital improvements and it was supported on the Senate side by Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Hob Bryan (D-Senatobia). Gov. Kirk Fordice gave his approval on March 31, 1997.
On March 1, 1998, the long-awaited money was put to use. During Phase I, the Trade Mart got new bathrooms, ceiling tile, paint, bright lights for the foyer, carpet for meeting rooms, divider walls and replacement of all 111 doors. Leaks in the new roof, due to the air conditioning units, were repaired.
Phase II, which Stegall hopes will be ready for bid by this October, will widen the lobby and grant one of trade show givers` biggest requests – more meeting space. New dividers in the west bay will allow for 12 meeting rooms and a total of 16 meeting rooms in the Trade Mart.
In the past, some trade show organizers have hung drapes to create meeting rooms, but the drapes did little to block sound.
Phase II will also update the outside of the building. The new look is being designed by architect Eric Tscherter of Cooke Douglass Farr & Lemons/Ltd., the designer of other neighboring buildings on the Mississippi Fairgrounds.
Already the improvements appear to be paying off. Stegall said participants in the Trade Mart`s second largest event, the Wildlife Extravaganza, were impressed by the improvements during this month`s show, after giving the building a below-average rating last year. And exhibitors of another August show, the Mississippi Market, rated the show`s quality the best it`s ever been.
Market organizer Jenny Wilkinson feels their approval had something to do with the improvements, though the 70 exhibitors said nothing about the Trade Mart`s actual appearance. In this case, she took their silence as a good sign. “People notice when it looks bad, and they`ll comment,” she said.
The Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, which hosts the Market, did notice the improvements and was impressed, Wilkinson said. In the past, the department would have never hosted a reception in the front meeting room, but did so this year because it had recently been carpeted and painted, she said.
The landscaping outside and the updates inside make a good impression on visitors, she said, and “that`s important for any show.”