$30M in Renovations Proposed at Fairgrounds

JACKSON (AP) — Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith is proposing $30 million in upgrades to aging facilities at the state fairgrounds in Jackson.

Hyde-Smith told the Mississippi Business Journal (http://bit.ly/OdcHCv) that both the Trade Mart building and Mississippi Coliseum need work.

Without it, Hyde-Smith says there could be a falloff in usage and a loss of revenue that helps support other facilities on the fairgrounds.

Hyde-Smith says she'll ask lawmakers in January for the money.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says the Coliseum and Trade Mart "are important economic generators for central Mississippi. We'll just have to see how this request fits with our priorities in the next session."

Hyde-Smith said she can make a successful case for spending money to keep the Coliseum and Trade Mart viable as venues for spectator events, concerts, trade shows, banquets and meetings.

Hyde-Smith says she was given $480,000 to prepare a comprehensive plan for the fairgrounds and its facilities. She expects the report to be ready for lawmakers in January.

Billy Orr, Fair Commission executive director, said the best place to start is with an asphalt overlay for the parking lots of both buildings.

Neither building has fully recovered from flood damage received in 1979, said to Orr.

Substantial portions of both "went under water in 1979" he said and problems have plagued the electrical systems of both buildings ever since.

The 66,600-square-foot Trade Mart "would need new electrical everywhere," Orr said.

"It has just been patched up since that time," he said.

Orr said the building needs a new roof — a job that would entail replacing the air conditioning system that is installed within the roof structure.

Beyond those repairs, Orr said the building needs new lighting, sound system, rest rooms and concession stands.

The Coliseum, which opened in 1962 and has hosted Elvis and will present Sir Elton John in September, replaced its heating and air conditioning system a couple years ago. The state put a copper roof on it in the late 1990s.

About 6,300 new seats are needed, said Orr.

"The main thing is you can't get parts for them," he said.

The dressing rooms should be updated, he said.

"We're also in bad need of concession stands" and a general updating and painting of the interior, Orr said.

"One of the big items is a new concert stage and new sound system," he said.

Orr said a new stage would cost around $190,000 and a sound system $75,000.

Orr said without the revenue the buildings produce the Fair Commission would be unable to pay the upkeep on the equine center, livestock buildings and the water and sewer system.

Ben Allen, executive director of the Downtown Jackson Partners, said he does not think upgrading the Coliseum would hamper efforts to get a new arena downtown, because the arena is envisioned as a much larger and more modern venue.

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson, a member of the Fair Commission, said he is unsure what a refurnished Coliseum would mean for his push for an arena to house major concerts and sporting events.

Hyde-Smith, the agriculture commissioner, does not see one project bearing on the other, however.

"I think we each have our place," she said.


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