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On tap

Mississippi Coliseum to serve beer for first time; new arena advocates still work on feasibility study

On Oct. 16, Hank Williams Jr. will be in Jackson to perform at the Mississippi Coliseum.

Joining Williams will be country music acts Jamey Johnson, Colt Ford, Josh Thompson and The Grascals.

But perhaps the star of the show will be something that’s never appeared — at least legally — at the four-decade-old Coliseum: beer.

The Mississippi Fair Commission voted to allow beer sales this year at the Coliseum. The lack of beer availability at the facility has long been a contentious issue. Economic development groups have said it keeps the Coliseum off the list of potential sites for large-drawing acts like Williams, and have cited it as the impetus behind the failure of minor league sports teams that once called the facility home. Beer opponents have argued that, since the Coliseum sits on state property, the sale of alcoholic beverages shouldn’t be allowed.

“There’s never been any law against it. It’s just strictly been up to the Fair Commission. We finally did it,” said Billy Orr, the Fair Commission’s executive director.

Beer has been sold at other facilities on the Fairgrounds. Horse and livestock shows at the Fordice Equine Center have traditionally made it available, as has the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo, the biggest and most lucrative annual event at the Fairgrounds.

“It’s been done everywhere else,” Orr said. “It’s just never been done at the Coliseum.”

Orr did not have an estimate as to the economic impact beer sales would have on the Coliseum, but admitted it would provide a financial jolt. What he was certain of was that Williams, who has become a cultural icon with his music that centers on drinking and partying, wouldn’t be coming to Jackson without it.

“He’s sponsored by a beer company,” Orr said. “One thing is competition and sponsorships. We were the only building of this size in the whole South that we could find that didn’t sell beer. It’ll help. I don’t know how much. Of course, it will all depend on how much beer (concert-goers) drink. It’s already helped get the concert here.”

Though it is not the crux of their argument, economic development groups in Jackson have said the Coliseum has outlived its competitiveness because of its age and its lack of alcohol availability.

Led by Downtown Jackson Partners, the groups have been pushing for about a year-and-a-half for a new arena downtown. They point to the success Little Rock, Ark., has had with its Alltel Arena, which in the past two years has hosted the Rolling Stones and a regional in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and has played a significant role in that city’s downtown revitalization.

Jackson’s arena efforts are still in the planning stages, with nothing settled as far as financing or even location.

Ben Allen, executive director of Downtown Jackson Partners, said his organization would be meeting with stakeholders this week in an effort to raise funds to pay for a feasibility study relating to an arena downtown.

The need for a new arena similar to the one Little Rock has is not lessened by the Fair Commission’s decision to allow beer sales at the Coliseum, Allen said.

“It has nothing to do with it,” he said. “If we compete with what they can get at the Mississippi Coliseum, we have failed. We’re not trying to be in competition with them. They’re going to keep doing what they’re doing. We’re going for (events) that they simply can’t handle. I’m sure there will be some spillover, but (the idea of building a new arena) has always been independent of the Coliseum.”

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About Clay Chandler

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