The Jackson Convention Complex is billed as the place where Mississippi meets the world, a facility designed to generate tens of millions of dollars a year in new spending for businesses in the capital city.
Ten years on, though, the center is less Mississippi’s front porch and more a monument of why people don’t trust local government.
In 2004, the center was sold to voters as an economic development tool that would generate some $66 million a year in new spending for area businesses.
But since it opened its doors in 2009, the center’s economic impact has fallen woefully short. Further, the number of events being held there, along with the number of visitors the center brings in, continues to decline.
Through an open record request, we learned that SMG World, the firm that has managed the center from the beginning, has failed to fulfill several reporting requirements in its management requirements.
We also learned that the Capital City Convention Center Commission either doesn’t know or doesn’t care the requirements aren’t being met.
Of course, the Sun’s efforts to find out about the center’s operations have been stonewalled at every twist and turn.
On February 19, we requested the center’s event recap reports and annual benchmarking reports, both of which are required under SMG’s current contract.
The reports were designed to provide more insight into the profitability of events, as well as its performance when compared to other centers of similar size.
At first, we were told the documents didn’t exist. Then, we were told SMG was confused by our request. No one from the agency or the commission called to clear up any confusion.
When we finally did receive the documents, they raised further questions. The event recap report didn’t contain all of the information required in the contract
Meanwhile, the benchmarking report compared the Jackson complex to three unnamed centers, also run by SMG.
SMG wouldn’t release the names or locations of the centers, saying it was “proprietary information.”
The center is clearly not meeting initial expectations and SMG knows it. Voters agreed to tax themselves to fund the $65 million center’s construction. They’re still paying the tax despite shortfalls. Why are commissioners not angry about this? Why are they not concerned about the center’s poor performance and SMG’s lack of transparency? This lack of oversight is truly disappointing.
SMG’s contract is up for renewal this year. Let’s hope the commission is more concerned than they let on.