By TED CARTER
This year’s state bond bill has the final $20 million needed for construction of a new Trade Mart on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.
Legislators last year whittled a proposed $50 million for upgrades to both the Mississippi Coliseum and Trade Mart to $10 million. That allocation will be combined with the expected $20 million, giving fairgrounds management enough money to cover construction of a new Trade Mart that will connect to the Coliseum.
While the $30 million is expected to be enough for some minor improvements at the Coliseum, major renovations to the aging Coliseum are well into the future, said Rep. Tom Weathersby, chairman of the House Property Committee.
“I think that may be something that is down the road,” Weathersby said of a makeover for the early 1960s era entertainment venue.
On the other hand, work on a new Trade Mart could come as early as this summer, according to Weathersby.
Like Weathersby, Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith is confident the state’s 2016 bond bill have money to replace the 1970s era Mississippi Trade Mart.
“We are planning to attach the new Trade Mart to the existing Coliseum and do renovations to the Coliseum as well,” Hyde-Smith said in an email Monday.
The current Trade Mart will remain open while construction is under way on the new one. Just where the new building will be situated has not been decided, Hyde-Smith said. “We are now is conversations with the architect and design planners on the exact location.
“We have a couple of options. Of course we have to consider all the other events that take place during the year such as the State Fair. We hope to soon have some preliminary plans so that we can have a ground breaking.”
Attaching the new trade show building to the Coliseum will provide an additional 40,000 square feet of exhibit space on the floor of the Coliseum, according to Hyde-Smith.
Hyde-Smith said she is unsure how much of the $30 million will be used to fix up the 55-year-old Coliseum. Estimates in 2013 put replacement of the 66,600 square-foot Trade Mart at between $12 million and $15 million.
Since taking office four years ago, Hyde-Smith has pushed for a makeover for the coliseum and improvements to the Trade Mart. 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.
Before his retirement in 2014 as Fair Commission executive director, Billy Orr said 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.
Last year’s success in getting $10 million included in the bond bill followed two years of failing to do so.
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