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Staying lean, hall of fame/museum weather stormy economy

JACKSON — Since 1996 the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum has operated close to the bone. It is for that reason, perhaps, that it has been able to weather the slumping economy.

“We never start a project we’re not fully funded for from the outset,” said executive director Michael Rubenstein. “We’re going to get through this downturn better than a lot of other similar attractions.”

The number of visitors has been about the same this year as in years past, said Rubenstein, who is hoping for a good response for the Women in Sports Day Feb. 6 and for Black History Day, which will be celebrated at the museum Feb. 26 and 27.

One thing that has not remained the same as it was in years past is the conference center side of the business, which has actually increased.

“I think it’s taken awhile for people to realize that there’s a museum that has quality meeting space that’s available for the public,” Rubenstein said. “It has taken longer for people to realize that we have room for high school graduation reunions, etc.,” he said. “As word of mouth has spread, we have seen more business.”

The facility receives no government assistance to operate and no taxpayer money from the city, county, state or federal government. All of the operating costs of the museum and hall of fame are raised through admissions, event sponsorships, memberships and through the Mississippi Sports Foundation Inc., the private nonprofit that established and operates the hall and museum.

“We’re the biggest bargain in Mississippi today,” Rubenstein said. “The public can’t complain about what we’re costing them because we don’t cost them anything.”

One of the ways Rubenstein and others are working to increase visitation to the museum and revenue for the museum is through a new Web site at www.msfame.com, which will be ready around Feb. 1. In the future, the museum will be able to do retail over the Internet.

The budget last year for the sports hall and museum was $440,000, but Rubenstein said that budget could change in the future.

“If the businesses and individuals in the State of Mississippi don’t want a Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, then it will not last,” he said. “There is no guaranteed means of support.”

Ben Puckett Sr. of Puckett Machinery, is happy to help. His family sponsors the Olympic Room.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the State of Mississippi,” Puckett said. “I just wish more people knew about it.”

Puckett was on the Mississippi Olympic committee for 25 years and has attended every Summer Olympics since 1968. He resigned after the Atlanta games.

“We all thought that sponsoring the Olympic room would be a nice thing to do,” Puckett said.

Karen Carlisle, co-owner of the Carlisle Corporation in Memphis, which has 80 Wendy’s stores in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina, talked about the Wendy’s high school gallery, which just opened in April. The gallery is based on the Wendy’s High School Heisman award that is given out and features high school students who have gotten athletic awards and community civil service awards.

“I think Mississippi does an excellent job through the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in addressing its athletes,” Carlisle said.

Wanda Collier-Wilson, executive director of the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), said the facility is a “very unique attraction that we promote to visitors from all over.”

“Sports is big business in this country and we are fortunate to have so many famous athletes from our state,” Collier-Wilson said. “People want to know about athletes like Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Archie Manning, Ralph Boston and Dizzy Dean, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame provides an interactive look into their, and many other athlete’s, careers.”

Collier-Wilson said the Jackson CVB also promotes the hall of fame and museum as a place for meetings and receptions.

“Many times groups coming to the city will hold a reception at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, allowing their guests what is literally a private tour of the facility,” she said. “Visitors really appreciate such an opportunity. Michael Rubenstein and his staff are to be commended for operating such a unique venue, and the Jackson CVB is proud to have the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in our city.”

Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3.50 for senior citizens and students, and $3 per person, regardless of age, for groups of 12 or more. The conference center is, for a fee, available to the public on a reservation basis.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.


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