The Mississippi’s Legislature’s need to make up for capital projects that languished without a state bond bill in 2012 kept a new entry from making the 2013 bill – a proposed $48 million revamp of the half-century-old Mississippi Coliseum on the State Fairgrounds in Jackson.
Having waited its turn behind new construction for the state’s universities and a new University of Mississippi Medical School campus, the Mississippi Coliseum deserves a place at or near the front of the line for 2014, says Cindy Hyde-Smith, a former state senator and first-term secretary of agriculture and commerce.
Smith’s proposal for an extensive renovation of the Coliseum failed to get out of the starting gate in this year’s legislative session, though her proposal included an improvement study by Jackson architectural firm Wier+Boerner.
The study envisioned all new permanent seating, a new stage, sound system, lighting system, new dressing rooms, new restrooms, four new elevators and an escalator. Also, audience seating would increase by 500 and additional space would be provided in the club level for another 300 folding chairs.
“We did a lot of pre-planning,” Hyde-Smith said, including a market feasibility study on which the figures for new seats were based.
Alas, other pressing projects that had been delayed made 2012 not the best of years in which to seek the funding, she added. “It boiled down to a dollar figure they wanted to stay within in the bond bill. They stayed within that.”
Looking ahead, she said, “I don’t think anybody is just totally against it. We have a place in line reserved for next year. We’re moving forward.”
She said some of her optimism for 2014 comes from a willingness of legislative leaders such as House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to take a close look at her proposal.
Gunn, she said, accompanied her to North Little Rock, Ark., to meet with the director of the 18,000-seat Verizon Center, an arena that attracted some of the biggest acts in show business and helped to spur revitalization of the waterfronts on both sides of the Arkansas River.
Gunn “got on board very early,” Hyde-Smith said.
Reeves, who indicated early in the session he would have difficulty adding Coliseum money to the bond bill, visited both the Coliseum and the neighboring Trade Mark for a look at the shortcomings of both buildings and the potential for upgrading both facilities, Hyde-Smith said. “He looked at all of the problems. Both of the buildings definitely need major work.”
Reactions of both Reeves and Gunn have her feeling optimistic about prospects for next year, she said.
The agriculture and commerce commissioner has framed her proposal as a decision on whether the Coliseum can become a 21st century entertainment and exhibition venue that can pay for itself. In its present state, the 10,000-seat building can’t live up to its potential and generate the dollars necessary to maintain and run it, supporters of the revamp say.
In the meantime, Hyde-Smith says she will continue with plans to sell naming rights to the Coliseum, Trade Mart, Equine Center and other buildings and areas within the State Fairgrounds. For pricing purposes, the optimum time to sell the rights to the Coliseum, she said, would be just as it opens as a new modern-style venue. But the effort to get to that point is already underway, she added.
“We want to get on with the naming rights.”
For now, the department is courting corporate and non-profit prospects, according to Hyde-Smith. “We’re still kind of creating the dialogue, establishing the relationships.”