City aldermen vote to fund Jackson sales manager for convention center
NATCHEZ — Without an agreed upon funding plan, the Natchez Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 Tuesday night to help fund a new tourism position in Jackson to market the city.
The board voted to increase its monthly management fee to the New Orleans Hotel Consultants from $20,000 to $24,000 at the request of the company’s president, Warren Reuther.
The fee increase will fund the salary of Angela V. Weathersby, formerly events and continuing education coordinator for the Mississippi Nurses Association, as a regional convention and sales manager. The Natchez Convention Center will be Weathersby’s employer.
New Orleans Hotel Consultants currently manages the convention center, city auditorium and community center.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith and Ward 5 Mark Fortenbery voted against the motion and voiced concerns during the city’s finance committee meeting prior to the Tuesday regular meeting about voting to increase the fee without determining how they city is going to pay for it.
Mayor Butch Brown previously said Weathersby’s salary could be paid for using the up to $82,000 variable management fee the city recently removed from its agreement with the CVB. The funds must be used to market Natchez, and that would be Weathersby’s job, Brown has said.
Brown said after Tuesday’s meeting that the money would come from the variable management fee or the general fund.
Weathersby’s salary would be $48,000 annually. The convention center would provide benefits, and the CVB would cover travel expenses.
Weathersby has said office space is available in the Southern Administrators Building in Ridgeland for $385 per month, which would be paid by the convention center.
Weathersby’s job would be to aggressively recruit conventions and meetings that originate in Jackson, Reuther said. She would also develop working relationships with corporate and association meeting planners and maintain high visibility in the planning community.
Smith and Fortenbery said they did not oppose Weathersby’s position, but did not like voting on it without a funding source outlined.
Fortenbery also voiced concerns to Reuther during the finance meeting about whether other hotels in Natchez besides the Natchez Grand Hotel would benefit from Weathersby’s recruitment of conventions to Natchez. Reuther’s company owns the Grand Hotel.
Reuther told Fortenbery that the convention center could not bring hundreds of people into town for multi-day conventions without the room capacity support of hotels other than the Grand.
“The average meeting is over 500 rooms,” Reuther said. “I only have 119… I wouldn’t be here if I only represented my hotel. But in order for the convention center to success, you have to have that anchor hotel.”
Reuther also noted that four hotels — a $46 million investment — have been built in Natchez because of demand since the convention center was built.
“And more are coming,” he said.
Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard made the motion to increase the management fee to help fund Weathersby’s salary, noting the growth and possible expansion of the convention center, as well as the center’s economic impact on Natchez.
In other news from the meeting:
-The board voted to allow Community Development Director James Johnston to apply for a $35,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Urban Youth Corps Program to hire five college-age individuals to work with Natchez Public Works from May 27 until Aug. 2.
The city is required to provide a 20-percent match, but that will be supplied through in-kind life skills training, equipment usage and staff time, Johnston said.
The youth will be working every day outside, Johnston said, doing landscaping and other work.
-The board approved a supplemental order in the amount of $35,000 for the North Natchez Drainage Project at the request of City Engineer David Gardner. The order is to add a 30-inch pipe to a section of the project to increase storm water drainage capacity.
The $35,000 will increase the construction cost of the project, but it will not affect the overall project cost, Gardner said, because the project budget has the funds to cover it.