When meeting planners head to the Mississippi Delta, what are their options? In the Delta towns of Cleveland, Clarksdale, Greenville, Greenwood and Yazoo City, meeting space is diverse and unique.
“Life’s a little different in small towns,” said Glo Baker of the Yazoo Downtowners Association. “We may have a general session in one place and breakout sessions at other locations around town, like a bank or law firm. In small towns, it’s an ideal way to handle something like this — by focusing on the town’s uniqueness, charm and character.”
Last year, Cleveland business leaders added an annex to the Bolivar County Expo Center, originally built in the mid-1970s.
“Renting it started out kind of slow, but it’s had quite a bit of use lately,” said Pearman Smith, manager. “It’s pretty well rented up on weekends, with the annex getting more private use, such as wedding receptions, family reunions, class reunions and parties, and the expo center getting more public use.”
The annex meeting room, measuring 60-by-65 feet, comfortably seats 325 and rents for $300 a day. The expo center, a multi-purpose arena measuring 200-by-150 feet, accommodates up to 1,300 people in its grandstands and is host to home shows, agriculture expos and the like. It rents for $500 per day or $400 for a night event, Smith said.
“We built the annex primarily to accommodate the Delta Ag Expo, even though it would get a lot more use, which it does,” Smith said. “We knew meeting rooms were needed and the organization even donated some money to the project to get it going. What we had was inadequate.”
Kathy Long, tourism associate of the Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, said numerous events have been hosted at the 50-acre, $250-million Coahoma County Expo & Fairgrounds Center, which opened in 1998.
“The community needed an expo center and it has been used so much — the Delta Jubilee, Coahoma County Fair, circuses, rodeos, carnivals and dances,” she said. “The facility is used for gospel sings, monthly flea markets, annual fund-raisers and so many other events. The millennium committee used it for the Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve dances. I don’t know how we did it without the expo center.”
Nonprofit organizations can rent the facility for $500 a day. Other businesses pay a daily rate of $800. Within a10-mile radius, nearly 300 hotel rooms can accommodate event attendees.
A newly opened 400-space RV park, located adjacent to the center, has been utilized “more than we could have ever expected.” For instance, Good Sam’s RV Group in Mississippi held a Spring Samboree for other dealers, with 472 participants representing 12 states and spending more than $17,500 during the week-long event, she said.
When meeting planners call the Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau, they are directed to the community center, which was built in the 1970s but does not have breakout facilities. There’s been talk about building a convention center and preliminary sketches have been drawn up, but no action has been taken.
That hasn’t hampered moneymaking events such as ShowFest 2000, a car show held in May that drew nearly 5,000 car enthusiasts, or the world’s largest baby shower, said Yvette Benson, administrative assistant for Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“The home show held in March drew about 2,500 people,” said Bill Seratt, executive director of the WCCVB. “For a first-time event, that was pretty good.”
The trade hall is 25,000 square feet and additional meeting space has approximately 5,000 square feet. For $1,200 a day, about 3,000 people can be seated classroom style. Up to 200 booths can be accommodated on the floor space, with room for nearly 10,000 attendees a day.
The arena at the Leflore County Civic Center in Greenwood, built in the 1980s, has a meeting capacity of 2,825, with permanent seating for 1,825 people.
Meeting rooms in the 9,576-square foot facility, with a kitchen, can accommodate 425 people for a conference and a sit-down banquet for 350. Rental rates range from a four-hour fee of $45 for one of the smallest rooms to $500 for a five-hour dance in the arena itself. Concert rates are $1,000 or 10% of gross sales, whichever is higher, according to Elizabeth Stowers of the Greenwood Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“When meeting planners call in, we also recommend two local hotels — the Ramada Inn and the Hampton Inn — for large meeting rooms or banquet type events,” she said.
When business folks meet in Yazoo City, it takes a little extra planning. Last month, when retail guru Jon Schallert met with Yazoo City merchants, the meeting was held in a local church. Afterwards, Schallert hit the streets to visit merchants one-on-one.
“If a financial planner wanted to host a large meeting, he would join the chamber and the chamber would set it up for him,” said Glo Baker of the Yazoo Downtowners Association. “Many of our meeting places are private, or have stipulations that we know about. It’s easier for us to take care of the details.”
For instance, Rick’s Memorial Library has an annex with a meeting room and kitchen and a new annex is under construction, thanks to a donation by Mississippi Chemical Corp. The local junior high school auditorium hosts large general meetings. The Triangle Cultural Center has an auditorium that seats up to 200 folks, with classroom space to accommodate breakout sessions. The National Guard Armory is a popular site for banquets and fund-raisers, with room for 325 people and a large stage.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.