Oxford — The $5.5-million Oxford Conference Center is open and going strong. The multi-purpose facility opened on May 22, ahead of schedule, so a wedding and reception could be held there. An official ribbon cutting will take place in the fall, according to executive director Hugh A. Stump III.
“This is the biggest facility from Jackson to Tupelo and from Memphis to Tunica,” he said. “We will have all sorts of social events, state association meetings, conferences, retreats, exhibitions and business meetings.”
The calendar is filling rapidly as some 60 events are already scheduled to take place there. Stump said a few of the groups who will be meeting at the new center are the Mississippi Department of Education, Northwest Mississippi Community College, Mississippi Malt Beverage Association, Mississippi Wild Turkey Association, Mississippi Young Bankers Association, Independent Insurance Agencies of Mississippi and Health Systems of Mississippi.
He also said St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital of Memphis has scheduled a retreat there. Marketing efforts will target the entire state of Mississippi and the southern portions of the tri-state area that includes Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. The conference center is developing a campaign with the Oxford Tourism Council and will be sending out a package of information.
Other marketing efforts will include attending trade shows, direct mailing and advertising in business, association and industry journals.
“The city realized the need for a facility to hold multi-purpose events,” Stump said. “We were doing all right with leisure travel but could not handle business and association meetings. Now we can do much more.”
Flexible meeting space a plus
The 25,000 square feet of meeting space is flexible and can handle groups of 40 or 50 to 350 people. Stump said the preferred size is 300 people, but the center can accommodate up to 700 for a banquet. The space can be configured to suit clients’ needs and includes a full complement of audio-visual equipment. There is also a 282-seat auditorium. The conference center is fully ADA compliant and has wireless Internet connectivity.
There is no exclusive caterer. The center has worked with five caterers in the area so far and clients are free to use their own. “We will handle whatever the client wants. We will do as little or as much as they require,” Stump said. “We don’t charge extra; it’s value added.”
The conference center was built by the City of Oxford with funds raised from a 2% tax on prepared food and beverage sales, Stump said. ArchitectureSouth of Tupelo designed the building and Worsham Brothers of Corinth constructed it. The center’s architecture is the same as the buildings on the Ole Miss campus, he pointed out, and would fit right in there.
“The meeting space on campus is used by the university, and the public does not book space there, so that limits what they do,” he said. “The university is also booking events with us.”
The conference center is receiving great support from the community, he added, and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council will decorate the facility to reflect the art and culture of the area.
“Oxford is a desirable location to visit and has 600 hotel rooms,” Stump said. “I think everyone who’s come here has been pleased. We’re pretty excited about the property. It gives a whole new set of options to people who want to come to Oxford.”
The conference center is located on the corner of Ed Perry Boulevard and Sisk Avenue about one mile from the historic downtown square. It’s in the northeast section of Oxford, a part of town that’s growing and has planned development that includes retail, entertainment, restaurants and two new hotels.
Growth all over town
Executive director of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation Max Hipp says most every area of the town is growing. He said the community is becoming a regional medical center that began when Baptist Medical Center in Memphis bought the local hospital in 1989.
“They put $150 million into the physical plant, upgraded services and brought in a lot of doctors,” he said. “It’s a regional hospital that draws from 11 counties.”
Hipp also cited the North Mississippi Regional Center, Dr. Robert Khayat’s leadership at Ole Miss, growth in manufacturing jobs and the attraction of Oxford’s retiree program for casting a positive light on the area.
“We’re a shining star in the state retirement program,” he said. “It has brought a lot of people into town and we get 10,000 hits a month on our Web site.”
He says the new conference center will be one more reason for people to come to Oxford. Although no numbers are available yet, he feels it will have a tremendous impact on the local economy.
“People will come here if there’s a reason, and this will draw them,” Hipp said. “We had good places but really didn’t have the space needed for large groups. This center will have a huge economic impact here.”
The center has only two employees now, but Stump said more will be hired including some sales personnel. Stump started last October and supervised the construction in addition to marketing the facility.
Originally from Orlando, Fla., he graduated from Ole Miss and worked for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis and in casino marketing in Tunica.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.