USE OF the Jackson Convention Complex was down in 2017, when compared to the previous year.
For budget year 2017, the center hosted 151 events, which drew about 132,000 people to the facility, according to General Manager Al Rojas.
By comparison, there were 223 events at the center in 2016 and 50,214 more visitors.
Fiscal year 2017 ran from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017.
Rojas expected numbers to slip this year, after a church meeting at the facility relocated.
In fiscal year 2016, the center hosted a local church, which met at the facility 45 times for Sunday morning worship. That church left in September 2016, prior to the start of the 2017 budget year.
Each of those meetings counted toward 2016’s event tally. Likewise, attendance for 2016 was boosted by the church’s attendance, which was added to the convention center’s overall numbers.
Revenues for 2017 were not available at press time. Historically, the center has operated at a loss. In 2016, for example, the convention center lost approximately $1.2 million, according to that year’s annual report.
More details for 2017 will become available when the SMG publishes its annual report.
SMG is a venue management company that manages convention centers, stadiums and other facilities across the country. The firm has been managing the Jackson convention center since it opened.
The report is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Numbers are down still when compared to 2014 and 2015, when the center hosted 209 and 187 events respectively.
Rojas hopes to determine other reason for the decline before the annual report is released.
“The (numbers) are not on par. We’re still looking to get some of the why,” he said.
He said it’s too early to tell how the opening of the nearby Westin Hotel will impact the center, but plans to work with Westin management to determine how best the two entities should work together.
The hotel opened last August, and is located a short walk from the Pascagoula Street.
“The Mississippi Association of Supervisors did stay there when they had a convention here,” he said.
Rojas still believes the best way to boost attendance would be through the construction and opening of a convention center hotel.
For years, officials have wanted to build a hotel across from the center on what is now a large parking area directly across from the center, also on Pascagoula between Farish and Lamar streets.
Right now, the area is a mish-mash of concrete slabs and gravel areas that are used by the convention center for event parking.
The future of the parking lot will likely be determined by private consultants.
Jackson recently brought on Hunden Strategic Solutions to study the site and draw up a land use plan for it. The contract is for $72,000, and was submitted to the city in response to a request for proposals.
“They’re just starting the work now. It will take a few months to bring to conclusion,” said Jackson Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine.
The city had to bring on the firm as part of a deal with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Jackson used nearly $7 million in HUD loans to purchase the property and has until 2028 to repay the debt. The idea was Jackson would use the Section 108 loan to purchase the property and then repay the debt with proceeds from a development.
HUD recently called the loan, though, because Jackson had not developed the site, Planning Director Mukesh Kumar told the Sun previously.
Shortly after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba took office, his team began negotiating payback terms with the federal agency.
Under repayment terms, Jackson must pay back the loan in installments over the next four years.
The first payment of $250,000 is due this year, Kumar said.
Also under terms with the federal agency, Jackson must complete a market study of downtown, conduct a feasibility study of potential projects for the convention center hotel site, and then issue a request for proposals (RFP) to develop the site, he said.
The market study must be completed by March, and the city must issue the RFP by August.
“We expect that proceeds from a development will cover all or part of the loan,” Kumar said.
The evaluation will determine if Jackson needs a convention center hotel or whether other projects would be suitable for the site. City leaders have argued for years that a hotel is needed to attract larger events to the downtown corridor. However, with the recent opening of the Westin, Jackson officials want to determine if a convention center hotel is still needed.
Rojas advocates for a convention center hotel, but said at the end of the day it comes down to what the economy will allow.
“One of the key things an (event) organizer looks for is hotel rooms, whether they’re close, adjacent or connected. When you look at different types, the connected (ones are) the most important,” he said. “It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a good selling point.”