Center’s projected economic impact falls short; continues to decrease annually

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Years before it was approved by voters, the Jackson Convention Complex (JCC) was projected to generate $66 million a year in new spending for the capital city. Nearly a decade after it opened, the center’s economic impact has fallen well short of projections.  According to annual reports posted on the center’s website, since 2012, JCC’s average annual economic impact has been just over $26 million, with a high of $34.4 million in fiscal year 2014 and a low of $18.8 million in fiscal year 2017. The 2018 annual report had not been completed at press time, but spending generated by convention center events is expected to be even lower, as the center hosted 18 fewer events than in 2017.

Capital City Convention Complex Commission Chair Fred Banks said the board obviously wants the center to do better.

However, he said several unforeseen factors have contributed to its inability to meet projections.

“The failure to get a convention center hotel … the failure to develop the Farish Street (Entertainment) District … There’s a number of things that have frustrated our expectations,” he said. “We would obviously want to do better.”

The center opened in 2009, five years after Jackson residents approved a ballot referendum to fund its construction. Prior to the vote, the center was sold as an economic development generator, and was projected to generate $66 million a year in new spending for Jackson businesses.

In theory, convention centers generate economic activity by attracting events to an area. The people that attend these events rent hotel rooms, eat at local restaurants, fill up their cars and purchase souvenirs.

In 2017, the center hosted 151 events, down from 223 the previous year, and had 207 event days, down from 293 the year before, according to the facility’s annual report. 

According to the report, approximately 132,000 people visited the complex, down from 182,000 the year prior.

 

Looking at the center’s events calendar, though, the center appears to be taking business away from other city venues, rather than generating new economic growth.

Instead of bringing in national and international trade shows, the facility has hosted local proms, programs put on by state and local governments, and nonprofit galas.

Arguably many of the events would have been held in the capital city even if Jackson didn’t have a convention center.

In fiscal year 2017, for instance, the center hosted several events put on by Jackson State University, the Hinds County Human Resources Agency, the state of Mississippi and Jackson Public Schools.

Individuals attending those events are said to spend between $70 and $140 while in Jackson.

The center is managed by SMG World. According to SMG figures, individuals who attend conventions and city-wide events spend almost $140 a day, while those attending sporting events, trade shows, banquets, consumer shows, meetings and concerts spend $70 while in Jackson.

In other words, an individual who attends the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership’s annual luncheon, which has been held at the convention center for years, is estimated to spend $70 in the city as a result of attending that event.

That’s despite the fact that the majority of individuals in attendance are from the tri-county area and do not have to pay for food outside of the chamber luncheon itself.

“Those figures are probably too high,” said Commissioner Duane O’Neill, the former chamber president.

Like Banks, O’Neill said the center has fallen short on expectations because of the lack of an adjoining hotel.

“That has made it very hard to bring these major conventions in,” he said. “When (organizers) see the center, they love it. They think it’s great. But then they ask where their delegates stay.”

Originally, city leaders had hoped to build a hotel across from the center at the corner of Pascagoula and Lamar streets. However, numerous efforts to do so have fallen through.

O’Neill, though, believes more events will come to the center in the coming years, with the opening of the nearby Westin Hotel.

The 10-story, 203-room hotel opened in summer 2017. The facility is located at 407 S. Congress St., 0.4 miles from the center.

Visit Jackson, the city’s tourism arm, is also boosting its efforts to help bring larger events to the convention center, in part, by offering free shuttle service from area hotels to the center, according to Visit Jackson President and CEO Rickey Thigpen.

“I wish we had a convention center hotel right across the street, like a lot of cities do, and that would be better, but the Westin (will) help us,” O’Neill said. “And that is going to show up in the years ahead.

“It doesn’t change overnight. People who plan events with 5,000 delegates coming in don’t do it two months ahead of time, but years ahead.”

 

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