Location, cost, facilities make Jackson popular meeting place

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Published: July 26,1999

There are plenty of places to meet around Jackson — unless you are planning a conference, seminar or mini-convention for several hundred people.

Curtiss Brown, president of Avanti Travel in Jackson, said it depends on the size of the meeting.

“Not every hotel in Jackson can take a 600 or 700-attendee meeting,” she said.

With 35,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and banquet space, the Crowne Plaza in downtown Jackson is the largest such facility in the state, said Chris Ansen, guest services manager.

“Sam’s Town (in Tunica) may now have meeting space comparable to ours, but we have the largest ballroom in the state,” Ansen said.

The extensively renovated Jackson Hilton, the former Ramada Plaza, not only added 300 rooms back to the metro Jackson hotel market, but also added more than 25,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and banquet space for up to 1,200 people when it reopened.

Donna Jones, director of groups for Avanti Travel and 16-year corporate meeting planner veteran, said Jackson is an excellent location for companies to hold a very cost-effective corporate meeting because it offers such inexpensive lodging and transportation.

“For the last three years, one of our corporate clients has held its annual kickoff convention in Jackson, with more than 600 participants from out-of-town,” Jones said. “It’s such a large group that we usually book up three hotels — the Crowne Plaza, the Edison Walthall, and Hampton Inn. All meetings were held at the Crowne Plaza’s ballroom because of its convenience to downtown.”

For smaller meetings, Jones usually calls the former Harvey Hotel, now the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, which is under the same management as the Crowne Plaza, she said.

When the Kellogg Foundation, the cereal giant’s philanthropical arm, brought in educational leaders from all over the nation last month, they booked the Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond.

“Corporate clients that I’ve worked with have wanted team building training exercises at Eagle Ridge,” Jones said. “A lot of corporate clients are putting salespeople through these exercises, such as rope climbing.”

Teambuilding workshops are becoming increasingly popular, said Karen Robbins, marketing coordinator for the Eagle Ridge Conference Center and Training Services. Eagle Ridge provides lodging, meeting and training facilities and a 206-seat auditorium.

“We customize an outdoor challenge course combined with classroom training for individual companies,” said Robbins. “This type of training has been used for senior level executive managers, middle management, upper management, advisory boards and leadership teams from Jackson and from all over the country. With our teambuilding training, some local corporations fly in people to conduct training sessions at our facility or we conduct sessions for them. The programs have been very successful.”

Cinemark Theater in Pearl and United Artists Theaters, located in Flowood, Ridgeland and Clinton, rent auditoriums for business meetings, such as training seminars or new product introductions — and video conferencing.

Sara Burrow, owner of Travel Plus, Inc. in Jackson, has coordinated national live satellite presentations for various corporate clients in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

“Perhaps if it was better known that it is available, more companies might rent theater auditoriums,” she said. “It’s a great tool if you have a lot of people you want to expose to something at one time. It’s an impressive way to do business.”

The 17-screen Cinemark Theater can accommodate up to 300 people at a cost of a dollar or two per seat. Usually booked in the mornings, companies can generally use the theater’s slide projector for presentations, with podiums, microphones and access to equipment furnished, said Richard Crockett, general manager.

“We’ve never had a request for theaters because most people coming into Jackson are being housed at local hotels,” Jones said. “It’s just a good fit to have meetings at the hotel, also.”

The floor of the Mississippi Coliseum can be turned into a very elegant meeting place, said Jones.

“We’ve also leased the Mississippi Museum of Art for events,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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