By TED CARTER
A bill to spend $51 million to give the Mississippi Coliseum a makeover and tear down and rebuild the neighboring Trade Mart is halfway home, having passed the House overwhelmingly.
Rep. Jeff Smith’s House Bill 39 proposing the general obligation bond must get through the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee chaired by Joey Fillingane before getting a floor vote. That would be followed by a bond conference committee made up of leaders of both the House and Senate. The first bonds for fixing up the 53-year-old coliseum would not be issued until July 2019.
Fillingane, a Lamar County Republican, declined to commit either way this week on HB 39. “I won’t categorize it as a thumbs up or thumbs down,” he said.
Before the conference committee goes to work on the bond bill, the Senate typically brings one consolidated bill forward and the House an assortment of appropriations bills, Fillingane said.
“We look and try to prioritize and see where we get the bang for the bucks,” he said of a finished product that would go to conference for consideration.
This year’s bill has progressed further than versions introduced in the 2013 and 2014 sessions.
In addition to renovations of the Coliseum and building a new Trade Mart, the bond money would pay for improvements to parking areas at the state fairgrounds.
The bill further mandates that the Mississippi State Fair held each fall remain at the fairgrounds unless two-thirds of the members of each house vote to let it move.
Cindy Hyde-Smith, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, has pushed for a makeover for the coliseum and improvements to the Trade Mart since taking office in 2012.
Without some significant work, each of the venues could see a falloff in usage, leading to a loss of revenue that helps support other facilities within the Mississippi Fairgrounds, Hyde-Smith said in a 2012 interview.
A $480,000 appropriation from the 2011 Legislature paid for a comprehensive plan for the fairgrounds and its facilities.
Billy Orr, who retired as Fair Commission executive director last year, said in 2012 that neither the Coliseum nor the Trade Mart ever recovered fully from the flood of 1979. Substantial portions of both went under water at the time, he said.
Hyde-Smith envisions a new Trade Mart that would connect to the Coliseum, providing synergy of use between the two structures. Estimates are that fixing up the circa 1970s Trade Mart, including significant electrical upgrades, would cost $8 million to $9 million.
Replacing the 66,600-square-foot building would cost $12 million to $15 million, Hyde Smith said estimates in 2013 showed.
The Trade Mart would remain open as a new one is being built. The space the building now occupies would be converted to surface parking.
A Coliseum with a 21st century look and the amenities of a modern arena could become a significant revenue generator for the state, Hyde-Smith said in a 2013 interview detailing renovation plans prepared by Jackson architectural firm Wier+Boerner.
Remaking the Coliseum, she said, is Jackson’s best hope for becoming a crossroads for large-scale exhibitions, professional entertainment and musical concerts.
The Wier+Boerner design specified putting in all new seating, a new stage, a sound system, lighting system, new dressing rooms, four new elevators and an escalator.
Audience seating would increase by 500 seats and space would be provided at the club level for additional seating. The building now seats 10,000 for concerts and about 6,500 for other events.