Despite challenges, Mississippi coliseum and fairgrounds find niche

JACKSON — It’s the place where many baby boomers attended their first concert as teenagers or young adults. Not much has changed over the 48-year history of the state-owned Mississippi Coliseum at the fairgrounds.

Today, people are still attending events at the aging coliseum, but the venue no longer is a stop on most major concert tours.

A big reason Jackson is being bypassed is the Coliseum’s limited capacity – 10,000 seats for concerts and 6,500 seats for most other events.

Recently, a monster truck show was held at the Coliseum and people were turned away because of sold-out shows on Friday and Saturday.

Event organizer Danny Torgerson, owner of Monster Truck Entertainment of Phoenix, said the Coliseum is a “great building.”

“It was perfectly sufficient for us,” Torgerson said of the Coliseum.

The Coliseum is used for events such as rodeos, concerts and the annual high school basketball playoffs.

Torgerson said he should have added a third day given the venue’s capacity.

“We will be back next year and we will have three days instead of two,” Torgerson. “We’re from out West. We were blown away about how friendly the people are in Jackson.”

Torgerson said a bigger building would be nice, but the Coliseum fit their needs.

Fairgrounds officials have said the limited number of seats would make ticket prices too costly for major national tours.

For that reason and others, the city of Jackson will spend $110,000 to study building an arena that could attract national concerts and other events.

One of the biggest annual events is the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The Coliseum sits on the state fairgrounds, which is operated by the State Fair Commission.

The building had is last major renovation in 1997 when the copper roof was completed.

Fair Commission Executive Director Billy Orr said since his return in 2009 several major interior upgrades have been made, including new flooring, renovation of restrooms, a new central heating system and a new electrical system.

“It’s a well-made building,” Orr said.

He said he wants to upgrade seating and install a new sound system at the facility.

State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, a former state senator from Brookhaven elected in November, has begun taking preliminary steps to sell naming rights for buildings at the fairgrounds.

She said it could provide additional funding that could bring older buildings like the Coliseum and Mississippi Trade Mart up to speed.

Hyde-Smith said there has been a meeting with the Mississippi Development Authority.

Hyde-Smith said she envisioned a 10-year deal for a business to have naming rights to the Coliseum. A company would pay an annual fee for the right to have its name on the building.

“It’s an old building, but it’s a great location,” Hyde-Smith said.

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2 Responses to “Despite challenges, Mississippi coliseum and fairgrounds find niche”

  1. Ag chief seeks $40 million to create 21st century Mississippi Coliseum - Mississippi Business Journal Says:

    [...] Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith sees Jackson’s best hope for becoming a crossroads for large-scale exhibitions, professional entertainment and music concerts resting within the confines of the 51-year-old Mississippi Coliseum. [...]

  2. Jay Boyle Says:

    On one hand, I feel the Mississippi Coliseum should be remodeled. Right now, the arena has only basic scoreboards for basketball only (they also had separate hockey scoreboards for the now defunct Jackson Bandits which could also have been used for basketball), no video screens or overhead scoreboard, or any modern bells and whistles. It can not even sell beer or alcoholic beverages for any events due to a law passed by former Ag Commissioner Jim Buck Ross.

    The Coliseum has a great bit of history to it since it opened in 1962. In fact, Elvis Presley did a benefit concert for tornado victims in 1975 and did one of his final concerts in 1977, so there is a point that the Coliseum should be remodeled. I remember when the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center (now known as the Kentucky Exposition Center) decided in 1984 to remodel Freedom Hall, which was built in 1956. When they remodeled their arena, they tore out the lower seating bowl and lowered the floor 10 feet and added new seating and a club level, all within a 10-month time frame. However, doing this to the Coliseum would be impossible because the Dixie National Rodeo (the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi River) is in February, the State Basketball Tournament is in March, and the State Fair is in October, which would only give it a 7 month window, 8 months if the basketball tournament is moved to another site for one year.

    While the Coliseum renovation plan is a good one, a new arena would be a better idea. It was underwater during the Great Easter Flood of 1979, destroying the indoor track, the old ice system, and the basketball court. Back then, the Coliseum could have been replaced with a new arena but it was not. Even with the proposed renovations, the Coliseum would still be outdated. Another case in point where renovation would prove to be no good would be the old Market Square Arena. The city talked to a consulting firm and it said that even with renovations, it would cost less to build a new arena, for renovations would have only extended Market Square Arena’s lifespan by only 25 years. This led the city to build Bankers Life Fieldhouse and tear down Market Square Arena.

    One study group suggested that an ideal arena for Jackson should have a capacity of 9,000 for sports events and 12,000 for concerts, with the arena capable of being expanded to 12,000 for sports and 15,000 for concerts. My suggestion is for an arena with a 10,000-12,000 capacity for sports and a 12,000-15,000 capacity for concerts.

    To Ag Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, before deciding whether or not to remodel the Coliseum, please consider a new arena on the site and repealing the alcohol sales ban in the Coliseum (the ban would still be in place for high school athletic events and if necessary, college events). Big House Renovation Good, Bigger Better House Better.

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