Tipton outlines bookings for convention center

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2001

NATCHEZ – Bookings and leads for the new Natchez Convention Center continue to grow, said Walter Tipton, whose tourism position includes managing the city’s tourism department and operating the convention and visitors bureau.

&uot;I want people to know we’re talking to many prospects,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;But in a way it’s like industrial prospects in that you don’t necessarily want to broadcast everything.&uot;

The center, under construction in downtown Natchez, is expected to open in April. Already two meetings and a local event are booked for that month.

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The Mississippi Department of Education will bring 150 for a one-day meeting on April 5, Tipton said.

Also in April, a local event will be what Tipton believes will be the first of many of its type. &uot;The Natchez Firefighters Association will have their fund-raising Firefighters Ball, about 450 people.&uot;

The Mississippi Orthopedic Society will hold a statewide meeting April 12-14, and this one will be a good test of the entire facility, Tipton said.

&uot;There will be about 60 people and 40 vendors,&uot; he said. &uot;There will be meetings and catered meals.&uot;

Further, the group is not so large as to cause a concern about hotel space. &uot;They mostly will be taken care of by the Eola Hotel and different bed-and-breakfast places.&uot;

The Mississippi Airport Association will hold its annual meeting May 29-31. &uot;That’s about 150 people,&uot; he said. &uot;Clint Pomeroy at our local airport brought that to us.&uot;

The Jeff Posey Conference will bring 300 people to the center June 13-14.

&uot;And the El Camino East-West Corridor Conference, which primarily will be held at the Ramada Inn, will have at least one function at the convention center,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;This is a premier group, and we want them to see our center so they’ll consider having their annual meeting with us each year.&uot;

One concern for 2002 has been to find meetings that want mid-week dates. &uot;Our weekends are full from the end of April to the end of August,&uot; he said.

Not that the convention center is booked all those weekends, but the hotels are expected to be filled by women bowlers.

&uot;Natchez is hosting the statewide women’s bowling championship. They’ll be filling all the rooms, about 2,000 of them over 17 weekends.&uot;

Not all 2,000 will be in town each weekend. Tipton said he did not know precisely how the numbers will break down for each weekend.

In 2003, the Wharlest Jackson Elks Conference for about 500 people will be held June 13-18 at the convention center.

&uot;And we have a couple of other interesting leads for 2003, some things pending. We’re talking to Tulane University and to the Mississippi Forestry Association,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;And we have a very strong lead with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for 2003.&uot;

That DEQ lead would require planning space at the convention center for several months leading up to an October event that would take place the week after the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

&uot;This will involve a lot of other agencies in the planning stages, and we feel if we get people from the different agencies into our facility and familiar with it, they’ll want to use it later,&uot; he said.

The convention center has been booked as a rainout site for outdoor events during the balloon race, Oct. 18-20. &uot;This will be another unique use of the convention center.&uot;

Local organizers are sure to like the convention center, Tipton said. &uot;We haven’t even finished the building yet, and I know already that I can go back and fill in the dates with things like the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, Mardi Gras, pageant balls in March. When people see the building, they will start running to us to book dates.&uot;

Tipton said the balancing act will be important – providing the space for local functions but retaining the main part of the building for outside meetings and conventions that bring extra people into town to fill hotels, eat in restaurants and shop in stores.