With the “Big House” in Jackson all but crumbling down, the Mississippi High School Activities Association is considering moving the state basketball championship tournament to Tupelo, Mississippi Coliseum officials say. The 11-day tournament that wrapped up over the weekend drew thousands of fans to the 53-year Mississippi Coliseum.
But it also drew the frustration of MHSAA officials over dilapidated dressing rooms that double as locker rooms and the absence of adequate seating behind one of the goal standards, says Cindy Hyde-Smith, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the entity that oversees the Coliseum and other facilities on the State Fairgrounds.
“The Mississippi High School Activities Association is moving to Tupelo if it can’t get better dressing rooms,” she said MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton has told Coliseum management.
“They are not happy with us at all.”
She said the association was upset that risers that held bleacher seating behind one of the goals had been moved out. Management had deemed the risers unsafe, she noted. “We had to cut out and throw away the risers.”
The MHSAA also wants the court replaced, Hyde-Smith said.
The contract with the MSSAA is year-to-year and 2015-2016 is anyone’s guess, according to the ag commissioner.
The MHSAA’s Hinton did not return a phone call Monday afternoon.
The head of Tupelo’s BancorpSouth Arena and Conference Center says the facility’s management is up for hosting the MHSAA tournament but has not been approached about its use for the 2015-16 school year.
“We’re always open when someone is interested in renting our facility,” Todd Hunt, the arena and conference center’s executive e director, said in an email that did not address whether the MHSAA is interested in putting the championship tournament there in years beyond 2015-2016.
“Our capacity for basketball is 7,787 with an additional 15,000 square feet of meeting space available for hospitality and work areas. We have hosted numerous basketball games throughout our 22-year history, including the MHSAA Grand Slam Tourney, the Gulf South Conference Tourney, NCAA games featuring MSU, Ole Miss, LSU and the University of Mississippi, and the Harlem Globetrotters.”
He said Tupelo’s 2,200 hotel rooms “are more than enough to accommodate the fans that would need to stay overnight.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi legislators are considering putting $51 million into the state’s 2015 bond bill for a renovation of the Coliseum, and replacement of the nearby Trade Center. However, the first of the bonds could not be issued until 2019, according to the bill, House Bill 39, thus meaning and end-of-decade start to any construction.
A new Trade Center would take $15 million of the bond money. The remaining would go to replacing the Coliseum’s lighting, seating, HVAC, dressing rooms, restrooms and concession areas. Elevators and an upper floor plaza would also be added, along with other improvements.