Private donors falling short on pledge for arena study

by Associated Press

Published: January 16,2012

Tags: arena, concerts, donors, downtown, entertainment, pledges, sports, study, tourism, tourists, visitors

JACKSON — Private donors have fallen far short of pledges toward a study of whether it makes sense for Jackson to build an arena — and, if it does, where it should be and how to pay for it.

Private donors had pledged around $70,000 toward the $109,000 feasibility study, but that less than one-quarter of the money has been given, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. told the Jackson City Council last week that about $17,000 has been donated, so the city will have to come up with the rest of the money if it wants the study done now.

The City Council must decide that question. The administration could ask the council to approve the study as soon as tomorrow’s meeting, city spokesperson Chris Mims said.

Original plans called for the private sector to pay for the study. The city became involved in early 2011 when the effort appeared to be falling apart.

An administration spokesman said in May that the city had more urgent needs, so the study would be made only with private money. Now the administration is looking to find money within this year’s budget to pay for the study.

The city expects at least some more private funding before any bills come due, Mims said. Duane O’Neill, the chamber’s CEO, could not be reached for comment.

When talks of the study first surfaced, supporters said they envisioned a venue similar to the Verizon Arena in Little Rock, which can seat up to 18,000 people.

Verizon Arena was built through a combination of revenue from a temporary sales tax increase, $20 million in state funding and $10 million from the private sector.

Other private groups are pushing for major upgrades to Thalia Mara Hall to be included in the scope of the economic impact portion of the study.

Haley Fisackerly, chairman of the International Ballet Competition’s board of directors, told the council last week that the 40-year-old hall needs about $9 million of work, including substantial improvement to the air conditioning. Fisackerly said the ballet competition at Thalia Mara represents an estimated $10 million economic impact. The venue is also host to Mississippi Symphony Orchestra concerts, plays and other shows.

Fisackerly, also president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, said he wants to create a group of stakeholders to help finance any work.

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