STARKVILLE — When it comes to meeting space, business folks in north Mississippi have choices ranging from the Furniture Mart in Tupelo for thousands of people to an intimate setting in Columbus or Starkville for only a few.
Unless you’re affiliated with Mississippi State University, it’s tough to find meeting space in Starkville, said Joan Friedman, executive director of the Starkville Visitors and Convention Council.
“The Ramada Inn has meeting space for 100 or so,” said Friedman. “Other venues, such as bed and breakfasts, handle smaller groups. The university is more than happy to work with our community on reserving space, but if the university finds the space is needed, we get bumped. It’s a policy we totally understand but I really can’t conduct a lot of business that way — if it’s unconfirmed.”
The university is pretty much a city of its own, explained Emma Armstrong, reservation coordinator for Mississippi State University in Starkville.
“The university has meeting rooms for departmental use and use by student organizations,” said Armstrong. “If a group cannot find space in the Starkville area or the surrounding counties, we have a facility that can be used for meetings with approved reservations.”
MSU has meeting space that serves 400 to 450 with catering, and approximately 500 without food service, she said.
Kay Shurden, owner of The Caragen House in Starkville, said she often gets requests for board meetings, council meetings or committee meetings from groups with up to 35 people.
“Usually, people who want a more intimate setting and are planning to have a meal before or after their meeting call us,” Shurden said.
In nearby Columbus, business folks can gather at the recently renovated two-level Trotter Convention Center that can accommodate up to 800 people, said Marie Mitchell of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
“Plymouth Bluff, our conference center located on the west bank of our lock-and-dam is very, very nice,” said Mitchell. “Because of its setting and atmosphere, it stays booked.”
Owned and operated by the Mississippi University for Women, it is situated on the Tenn-Tom Waterway and features cabins, pavilions and other outdoor facilities.
“We also have several bed and breakfasts in Columbus that could accommodate smaller groups up to 50, maybe 100,” Mitchell said.
When business folks want to gather for a meeting or convention in Tupelo, they can always opt for space at the Furniture Mart. Open since 1987, it is primarily used as a marketplace for lower-priced or promotional furniture goods during “market week” twice a year. It is housed in 1.25 million square feet of floor space in two buildings a mile apart on Coley Road in Tupelo.
“Between the Tupelo (Furniture) Market, the Ramada Inn and ourselves, we’re able to handle anything people in northeast Mississippi need for meetings and conferences,” said Paula Melton, assistant marketing director for the Tupelo Coliseum.
The 32,000-square-foot arena inside the Tupelo Coliseum can seat up to 10,000 people, and its five meeting rooms, all adjacent to each other, can accommodate 25 to 550 people, said Melton.
In Greenville, meeting planners may opt for the Washington County Convention Center Complex, with 25,000 square feet of unobstructed floor space, adjacent to over 4,000 square feet of four-way meeting/banquet rooms and a commercial kitchen. The complex can accommodate more than 100 exhibit booths or meeting space for approximately 3,000 people.
The E.E. Bass Cultural Center in Greenville provides dinner seating for 250 or theater-style seating for 500. The facility has onsite catering, adjoining classrooms for breakout sessions centered around a 44 by 38-foot stage with stereo sound system, stage lighting, dressing and make-up rooms.
“Most business people use the convention center, the largest in our area, for larger meetings,” said Darlene Carey, communications manager of the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Bass Center is mostly used for smaller meetings or social functions. The Ramada Inn and Holiday Inn Express have breakout rooms for smaller groups. Between these facilities, our business meeting needs are well covered.”
When north Mississippians are ready for a change, they don’t necessarily head to the Gulf Coast, Jackson or Memphis, They try out various destinations, Carey said.
“From a trend perspective, I’ve noticed people try out different destinations,” Carey said. “People are wanting to go places they haven’t gone before, or places that have some historical significance or some different activities their participants can attend.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com.