After two decades in managing arenas and convention centers, Kelvin Moore next month will step into perhaps his biggest challenge yet — making the Jackson Convention Complex the designation of choice for Mississippi trade and professional organizations that have long flocked to Florida for their annual gatherings.
It’s not just the Florida sun and surf Moore is up against.
He also comes to Jackson to run a venue that must compete with casino hotels on the Mississippi Coast and elsewhere in the state. And he will be charged with growing bookings for a 330,000 square-foot complex that was suppose to be served by a convention headquarters hotel.
He nonetheless says he can’t wait to get started.
Moore has spent the past two years running the Lynnwood, Wash., Convention Center. He said he took over the 55,000 square-foot center amid a slump in bookings at the onset of the recession but achieved record business numbers by the end of 2010.
“In Lynwood, we changed our booking policy to be more aware of the meeting planners and the constraints they have,” he said.
With more flexibility in bookings and more package deals that included meeting amenities and lodging, the 5-year-old center began to live up to its promise as a visitor draw, he added.
“We had more room nights filled than ever” last year, he said of hotel bookings related to conventions and meetings at the facility located in the Seattle suburbs.
He said he thinks he can achieve similar success in Jackson.
“I’ve never been more excited about an opportunity than moving down to Jackson,” said Moore, selected by Pennsylvania-based international venue management company SMG to replace Linda McCarthy, who departed in June.
He said he plans to do a lot of “listening” the first couple of months here and hopes to meet with a cross section of people, especially meeting planners and others who have some familiarity with the operation of the complex that will turn 3 years old in January.
“I’ll listen to anyone who is willing to talk to me about the convention center,” he said.
Moore said he especially wants to talk to planners and organization directors to learn why they selected destinations other than Jackson for their gatherings.
As for the groups that have come to Jackson, “I want to hear from them what we do well and what they’d wish we did better.”
Added Moore, “If they have been there and they decided to go elsewhere, I want to figure out why.”
Lynnwood posed some of the same challenges Moore said he expects to encounter in Jackson, including a significant number of competing destinations and the absence of a convention headquarters hotel.
For Jackson, he said, a headquarters hotel “is definitely the key.”
City officials had envisioned the hotel opening around the same time as the center. That plan has stalled as city officials work to reach agreement with Dallas developer TCI-Investments on a partnership for a $94 million, 16-story hotel on Pascagoula Street in front of the Convention Complex. In early summer, the city and developer were negotiating a deal that involved the use of $84 million in Gulf Zone Opportunity (GO-Zone) bonds.
“When I get there I’m going to do anything I can to support that project and move it along,” Moore said.
He insisted, however, that the management of the complex can’t allow the absence of a hotel “to be an excuse or a crutch” for weak bookings.
The hotel “would help our efforts immensely,” he said. “But in the meantime, we have a job to do. We will have to modify our plans in the interim.”
Moore said his staff will work closely with the Convention & Visitors Bureau to increase use of the complex, especially more multi-day events that would encompass weekday use with some spillover into weekends.
Further, he said, a focus will on drawing more local events but without compromising “our core objective which is to bring economic impact to the area” by filling up hotel rooms and restaurant tables.
Meet Kelvin D. Moore
Certified Meeting Planner (CMP)
Current Post: GM, Lynnwood Convention Center
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