Ag chief seeks $40 million to create 21st century Mississippi Coliseum

Mississippi Coliseum in Jacskon.

Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson

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.

To that end, she is lobbying legislators for around $40 million to overhaul the building. She had initially planned to seek $30 million for renovations of both the Coliseum and neighboring Trade Mart.

Now her efforts are centered entirely on the Coliseum, Hyde-Smith said, though she emphasized she will seek help for the aging Trade Mart after securing money for the Coliseum revamp.

“We just can’t do everything at the same time,” she said, “but that definitely is part two.”

The choice is either making a go of the Coliseum as a viable venue or letting it continue to deteriorate, she said in an interview this week.

“There are lots of challenges in that building,” the first-term agriculture commissioner said.

Smith, a Republican who served more than a decade in the state Senate before elected to her statewide post in 2011, said she thinks she has strong backing from legislators. “We have tremendous support in the Legislature,“ she said.

However, she must overcome any reservations Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Senate’s fiscal gatekeeper, may have. Reeves said in the fall that he would be hesitant to include the renovation money in a legislative general fund bond bill.

Reeves Thursday said he would have to be convinced the allocation covers a “priority” need. “The Senate and House are only beginning to talk about which projects to include in a bond bill,” he said in an email. “We will review requests and finalize a bill by the end of the session. However, the Legislature needs to pass a reasonable, rational bond package that pays for priority needs.”

Hyde-Smith said in a September interview that House Speaker Philip Gunn seemed receptive to allocating money to fix up the Coliseum.

The ag commissioner said she is willing to do the project in phases if the funding can’t be provided all at once. “However the Legislature wants to do it; we’re just asking for the funding,” she said.

An improvement study by Jackson architectural firm Wier+Boerner proposes all new permanent seating, a new stage, sound system, lighting system, new dressing rooms, new restrooms, four new elevators and an escalator.

Audience seating would increase by 500 and additional space would be provided in the club level for another 300 folding chairs.

Hyde-Smith said she expects the renovations would take 18 months but thinks the actual shutdown of the Coliseum could be limited to the 12 months between the Dixie National Rodeo events at the facility. Her plan would be to start the work just after the next year’s rodeo in mid February and finish most of the project in time to host the rodeo the following February.

Here are details on further ground-level improvements the Wier+Boerner study identifies:

» Improvements to primary entry;

» Improvements to exterior canopies;

» Updating interior finishes;

» Improving and enlarging ticketing areas;

» Enlarged storage space;

» Updating green rooms and other back-of-house spaces.

Concourse level improvements:

» Update interior finishes;

» Enlarge the concession areas and provide adequate points-of-sale;

» Add new restrooms and update current ones;

Upper level seating improvements:

» Repair and seal concrete risers;

» Update press box and provide VIP/Corporate spaces.

Wier+Boerner envision a new color scheme throughout with the upgraded finishes as well as six new private suites with balconies. The private suites would be served by private corridors.

Hyde-Smith said once the multi-million dollar improvements are completed she would put naming rights to the Coliseum on the market. “The rights will be worth a lot more on a renovated building than they are right now,“ she said.

Hyde-Smith’s efforts to enhance the Coliseum come as Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson‘s efforts to get an arena built continue to languish.

Johnson took over the arena effort from a group of private supporters just before Christmas 2010. However, little more than a market feasibility study has been done in the interim.

The market study, released several weeks ago, concluded that downtown Jackson would be a viable location for a state-of-the-art arena for both sports and entertainment events.

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Trade Mart must soldier on without upgrades

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