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Allen still believes new arena will be built within 10 years

Arena study clears hurdle

The push to construct an arena in downtown arena is moving forward. Last week, the project cleared an important early hurdle as the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD) completed a draft of a “pre-feasibility” study on the arena.

“We are encouraged by the study’s findings,” said Ben Allen, president of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP). “It’s just a draft, and it will be revised, but (those revisions) should be completed in about a week, and we should have a request for proposal (RFP) selected for the feasibility study in about six weeks.”

Long a proponent of a downtown arena in Jackson, Allen and the DJP last year formed a steering committee headed by Dr. Bill Cooley, which looked at Little Rock, Ark., and its downtown venue as a model for the proposed facility. Allen and the group felt that if it could work in Little Rock, a city of comparable size and make-up as Jackson, it could work in the Capital City.

Last October, Allen served as something of a master of ceremonies at an event held in the Jackson TelCom Center where the steering committee released its findings. Approximately 100 people were there, and the response from attendees was positive.

The next step was to commission a feasibility study on the project, and the DJP thought it had its company in HOK Sports, which had done similar work on the Little Rock arena. However, when word got out that Jackson was looking to commission the feasibility study, the DJP started fielding inquiries from other companies interested in the project.

HOK Sports offered to do the study for $102,000. With that figure as a benchmark, organizers commissioned the CMPDD to do a study to find out if people would support the feasibility study and its price tag.

According to Allen, the recently completed draft study from the CMPDD found that four out of five gave the study a “yes.”

After the CMPDD study is revised and finalized, organizers will begin the RFP selection process. If all goes as planned, the winner should be announced and in place well before the summer begins.

Allen was quick to add that the winning RFP would be selected by a group of seven who have no vested interest in the project.

“That means no engineers, no architects, no Internet service providers, no paper cup salesmen,” Allen said. “The RFP will be picked by those who have no dog in the hunt.”

At the October event, Allen made the prediction that downtown Jackson would have an arena within 10 years. Right now, it seems his prognostication is well on track.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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