City of Jackson officials have received three proposals from firms interested in performing planning and design studies for a possible downtown arena, and Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.’s spokesperson says interviews are being set up with the hopes of a selection being made soon.
Johnson took over the arena project late last year. Before, a private sector group led by Downtown Jackson Partners had started fundraising to pay for a feasibility and economic impact study, whose costs all together were expected to hover around $100,000.
Downtown Jackson Partners president and CEO Ben Allen had pointed to an arena as another cornerstone development, joining the convention complex, that could make Jackson’s downtown district competitive with some of its regional neighbors for tourism revenue generated by major sporting and entertainment events. Such a project would be heavily modeled after Alltel Arena in Little Rock, Ark, which, since opening about a decade ago, has hosted men’s NCAA basketball regionals and shows by such A-list artists as the Rolling Stones.
Officials from the city and the private sector have made several trips over the past couple years to Little Rock in an effort to learn how that city navigated the political and financial roadblocks to erect an arena that has solidified itself in the sporting, musical and entertainment event rotation.
If Jackson hopes to emulate Little Rock’s success in getting an arena built, officials would also be wise to look within Mississippi’s borders for another facility that has become a hotspot for A-list musical talent since it opened New Year’s Day.
The Arena at Golden Moon’s first show was headlined by country recording super-artist Martina McBride. The hits have kept coming. Diana Ross, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jeff Foxworthy, Vince Gill and Alan Jackson have all played the arena in the past three months. Tim McGraw played there last Friday.
On deck are Reba McEntire, Sugarland and classic-rock legends Chicago, and Warren Strain, Golden Moon spokesperson, said last week that a major announcement is coming soon that will coincide with the opening of Geyser Falls Water Park Memorial Day weekend.
“Most of these were booked in the late summer, early fall and through the beginning of the year,” Strain said. “We are absolutely thrilled with the way it’s been going. There is really no artist that is off the table. A lot of these artists these days enjoy playing more intimate rooms. In the round (the full Arena), we can seat somewhere around 9,000. On a typical night, the crowd will be somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000, but we can accommodate up to about 9,000. We haven’t done a show yet that completely filled up the round.”
The Arena does have its advantages, with casino gambling being what most Golden Moon visitors show up to do. Gaming revenue helps underwrite the costs of luring a major artist like Jackson or McEntire to a small facility with limited ticket sales and having it remain financially viable. If Jackson gets an arena, that’s one advantage it won’t have.
Where Jackson will have a leg up is location. Philadelphia is tucked several miles southeast of the nearest major highway; getting there is no accident.
“But if you make a really good hamburger, people will drive to wherever it is to get it,” Strain said. “People will come. It’s pretty simple.”
Jackson, on the other hand, sits within 500 miles of nearly every major metropolis in the Southeast. In play are Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta and Nashville, all of which routinely host every heavyweight sporting and musical event imaginable.
“We could get people (like the Golden Moon has attracted) here, easily,” Allen said. “For something like this to happen, it takes total and complete commitment. I don’t know how high the arena is on (Johnson’s) priorities. The private sector is totally out of the loop on this now. But I have confidence that we can get this done. But as it is now, people are waving at us on their way somewhere else to see or do something they could do here if we just had the facility to pull it off.”
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