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Since opening three years ago, facility underutilized

Vicksburg pins convention center hopes on marketing

VICKSBURG — Since the Vicksburg Convention Center opened three years ago, the facility was been woefully underutilized. But that’s about to change. New management is unrolling a marketing campaign aimed at meeting planners in neighboring states, with a special ad campaign slated for Mississippi markets.

“The former executive director left on her own,” said Robert Gallert, VCC sales and marketing manager who was hired last fall and declined further comment on the matter. Norman Ford is the interim director.

Even though the convention center is not getting the traffic that was predicted, plans are in place to spur activity, Gallert said.

“We’re putting together a marketing brochure that was never done before,” he said. “We never had material to market with. The new brochures are at the printers now and we should have them ready within two weeks. We’ll mail out up to 2,000 brochures to meeting planners primarily in Louisiana, then Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee. We have other plans for the state of Mississippi, including TV advertising in the Jackson area, as well as the Monroe and Baton Rouge markets. We’ll also advertise in five to eight magazines that target meeting planners.”

A new Web site will be unveiled later this summer and can be accessed via www.vicksburg.org, and will be fully functional for meeting planners, including easy access to PDF files, building blueprints and possibly a 360-degree zoom camera to view the exhibit hall.

Opened in 1997, the 50,000-square-foot Vicksburg Convention Center accommodates up to 2,000 people. Located in downtown Vicksburg, which has experienced a resurgence of late, the facility provides flexible meeting space and an on-site caterer.

Divided into two sections, the multi-purpose exhibit hall is used for trade shows, conventions and meetings. On the upper level, the convention hall houses seven meeting rooms and an executive boardroom for workshops and conferences.

The entire facility can be rented for $2,450, with convention hall rooms ranging from $125 to $275. Rental rates for the exhibit hall range from $650 to $1,300, Gallert said.

“With our convention center, we’re now able to accommodate sizable meetings that, in the past, we could not,” said Lenore Barkley, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Guests could have stayed in hotels here and there but we could not have had a banquet for 500 to 600 that we can now have.”

Gallert recently teamed with his Vicksburg CVB counterpart, Lisa Nasser, to make joint presentations marketing both entities. Last year, $101 million of travel-related expenditures were funneled into Vicksburg and Warren County that were not directly related to gaming.

Last week, organizers were preparing for the Miss Mississippi pageant, which draws nearly 2,000 people per day during its multi-day run. Several private events are planned, and one of the convention center’s upcoming public events includes the Mississippi Educational Service Community Job Fair, which brings in roughly 3,000 people over a two-day period, Gallert said.

To accommodate the increase in overnight guests, two new hotels — the Jameson Inn and an Isle of Capri addition — also opened recently, bringing the city’s hotel inventory to 1,900 rooms. Vickburg’s B&B offerings include 95 rooms.

“Our target is to get anybody and everybody into the convention center, whether it’s open or closed to the public,” he said. “We’re looking at both sides. As far as downtown is concerned, we’re trying to bring in conventions that will fill up our downtown area.”

Rosalie Theobald, director of the Vicksburg Main Street Program, said many new specialty shops, art galleries and restaurants have opened in the last year in downtown Vicksburg, including the Sunnyside Caf

About Lynne W. Jeter

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