Jackson — The first booking for the new Mississippi Telecommunications and Conference Center was the World Assemblies of Restoration Conference, booked by Bishop Robert Etheridge from Texas, but the Magnolia Bar Association held the inaugural daylong event at the new downtown Jackson facility on Friday, January 13, capped by an evening banquet for 300 people.
“Opening on Friday the 13th means nothing but good luck for us,” said Linda McCarthy, general manager of the Mississippi TelCom Center. “Every day is good luck when you’re running a one-of-a-kind facility like this.”
For seven months, McCarthy has been diligently working behind the scenes, overseeing the completion of construction, booking events, hiring a staff and coordinating contract services, among a multitude of tasks.
“Obviously, it’s been somewhat hectic preparing for the first event, but that’s standard in the industry for opening up a facility like this,” she said.
After working as executive director of the Houma Civic Center in Louisiana, marketing director for Bayfront Center/Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Fla., convention sales manager for the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi, and most recently as executive director of the Peachtree City Tourism Association in Atlanta, McCarthy returned to the Capital City to supervise the first piece of the multi-phase Convention District project.
The TelCom Center was slated to open last November, but because of delays created by Hurricane Katrina, the opening date was pushed to January and two events had to be relocated.
“Some of the suppliers were from the New Orleans area and their businesses were wiped out,” explained McCarthy. “Downtown Jackson didn’t have electricity for nearly two weeks and the construction crew had to work with battery-operated tools. There were also delays in equipment delivery. However, in the scope of what happened on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, these challenges nowhere near compared to the devastation they went through. We’re definitely not complaining about these minor issues.”
Even back in November, the TelCom Center had 23 events on the books, each averaging 2.5 days of use. Groups under contract include religious, fraternal, education, arts, real estate, government and business organizations.
“Even though we lost two months of booking opportunities in our fiscal year because of delays from Katrina, February, March and April are booked pretty solid,” said McCarthy. “Right now, we’re at about 30% of our goal of 200 event days per year. The first year is always the toughest, but we’ll do our very best to hit that mark.”
So far, all facility service contracts have been executed, including a catering contract, part-time and temporary labor services, technology maintenance services, security services, pest control services, window and carpet cleaning, floral design and maintenance and landscaping design and maintenance. Earlier this month, McCarthy made a deal to give Bill Brown of Brown Bottling Group Inc., the Pepsi distributor in Jackson, exclusive “pouring rights” at the center.
The convention industry and, in particular, convention attendees, provide a positive economic impact to Jackson. As established by the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, the average convention attendee spends slightly over $139.77 per day during a convention.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.