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OUR VIEW: Give new life to Mississippi Coliseum, Trade Mart

OurViewParking a problem out in the backyard until the problem goes away may work for some (see Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber and Farish Street).

The backyard treatment has been the undeserved fate of the 53-year-old Mississippi Coliseum for more than a decade. This could be the year that changes, however.

A makeover for the “Big House,” as it is known fondly among Mississippi’s high school basketball fans, is edging closer to a spot on the list of capital projects to be funded by the Legislature’s 2015 bond bill.

It’s important that legislative leaders make this the year they fully recognize the financial importance of modernizing the Coliseum and replacing the three-decade-old Trade Mart, both of which have damage left over from Jackson’s flood of 1979.

Think of the $9.25 return the state gets on each dollar it puts into the arena and the neighboring Trade Mart. And that is with the deterioration both venues are enduring, says Cindy Hyde-Smith, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, citing an economic impact study done on behalf of the department.

“This isn’t a ‘build it and they will come,’” Commissioner Hyde-Smith says. “They are coming.”

The problem, she says, is that time and use have pushed both structures to close to being unusable.

The House gave overwhelming support to Rep. Jeff Smith’s House Bill 39 to put $51 million into the 2015 bond bill for renovating the Coliseum and building a new Trade Mart. The Tupelo Republican’s general obligation bond bill must survive the Senate’s Finance Committee and a floor vote to make it to its real test: the bond conference committee in the session’s final days.

A similar bill died in the conference last year.

Why the hurry to do the Coliseum makeover and Trade Mart rebuild?

The backyard is always an option, after all.

So is demolishing both structures and walking away from the twin moneymakers.

But neither is acceptable to Mississippians.

Along with providing $17 million a year over three years, here’s what HB 39 does:

» Replaces the Trade Mart with a more than 100,000 square-foot trade show venue attached to the Coliseum, allowing for a 40,000-square-foot expansion of the Coliseum floor to accommodate major exhibitions such as heavy machinery and boat shows;

» New lighting, HVAC and electrical systems;

» New dressing rooms for the Coliseum;

» All new seating for the Coliseum and increasing the total to about 10,000 seats;

» New restrooms;

» New concession areas;

» Two additional elevators;

» A club level for spectators and group functions such as Christmas parties;

» An attractive plaza area in front of the Coliseum on which pre-concert parties and other events can be held;

» Improved parking areas throughout the Fairgrounds.

Nothing extravagant here.  But the Coliseum enhancements and new Trade Mart would restore the State Fairgrounds as genuine destinations for entertainment and trade shows.

A quick story from Commissioner Hyde-Smith that truly points up the need for modernizing the Coliseum:

Producers of the James Brown biopic “Get on Up” came to the Coliseum looking for a rundown, 1960s-looking concert hall. They couldn’t believe their luck – the place had all the dumpiness they needed for the movie shoot,  Commissioner Hyde-Smith recalls.

No props needed; we’ll take it just as it is, they told her.

The story may bring a chuckle.

But legislative leaders had better remember that Mississippians are proud people. You embarrass them at your own political risk.

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