A process that started as a meeting between Gov. Haley Barbour and the former head of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) five years ago reached its 128,000-square-foot conclusion last week.
The Jackson Convention Complex celebrated its grand opening Jan. 14 with a ceremony that included booming fireworks for a structure officials hope will lead to a booming downtown.
During the ceremony, Gov. Haley Barbour recalled the meeting he had with former MDA director Leland Speed. Barbour said Speed asked for the support of the Governor’s Office if a referendum to secure funding for the complex through an increase in hotel and restaurant taxes passed. With Barbour’s blessing and 60 percent of the vote, the complex was a go.
“Leland was right for a couple of reasons,” Barbour told the several hundred people gathered in the January chill outside the complex. “First, the state is mirrored in its capitol. If the capitol does poorly and the capitol is suffering, the state is pulled down by that. But today, when the capitol is growing, the health and vibrancy of Jackson benefits all the people in Mississippi.
“Second, this will bring hundreds of thousands of people to Mississippi, some of whom might have otherwise never come to our state. One of the things I’ve learned, particularly as it relates to economic development and job creation, is that many people have preconceived notions of Mississippi, often negative. But virtually every one of those people, when they come to Mississippi, like what they see.”
The first full-scale event at the complex, which adjoins the Telcom Center to create a 335,000-square-foot structure on Pascagoula Street, is this weekend, when Motor Trend will hold an international auto show. In all, said Jackson Convention Complex Commission chairman Fred Banks, $1 million of business is on the books for the complex.
“Our time has come,” Banks said.
Downtown Jackson Partners president and CEO Ben Allen used a racing metaphor to describe the economic impact the complex will have.
“Like an Indianapolis racer needs high-octane fuel, this is the fuel that’s going to drive all this,” Allen said, referring to the $209-million hotel development going up across the street from the complex, the renovation and refurbishing of the Roberts-Walthall (formerly the Edison-Walthall), the Old Capitol Green residential and retail development and the rest of the nearly $2 billion in development underway downtown.
“It was a signal to the development world that Jackson was ready to step up. Most people don’t know it, but we were the only capitol city without a convention center. This puts us on a level playing field. This is not only the cornerstone, it’s the fuel driving the engine. It is huge.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .