Center to be private

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The board of aldermen voted Tuesday to contract with New Orleans Hotel Consultants to allow the company to manage the Natchez Convention Center.

Aldermen James “Ricky” Gray and Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voted against the motion.

Alderman Bob Pollard, chair of the tourism committee, said he was pleased with the contract.

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“This is the Natchez-New Orleans connection we’ve been working for since I’ve been on the board,” Pollard said. “And it’s only a two-year contract. If we decide it’s not a good deal, we can say, ‘This isn’t working.’”

The company will manage the community center and the city auditorium as well. The fees for those two facilities will be fixed at the present rate for two years.

Walter Brown, the attorney representing the company, said the contract had been amended to specifically set aside traditional event days, like Mardi Gras parties, so locals could use the convention center.

Also, the community center, which the company will also manage, may continue to allow self-catered events. It and the auditorium will continue to be used for local events, he said.

The most recent addition specifically states that in times of disaster, the facilities may be used to help, Brown said.

Talk started in mid-November as to whether or not to hire the New Orleans-based company to manage the convention center, the community center and the city auditorium. The company will also manage the private hotel being built across from the convention center.

The city will pay the company $240,000 each year to operate the facilities. The money will go into a suppressed fund and will only be spent on operating costs, Mayor Phillip West has said in the past.

Mathis said privately managing the convention center was a great idea, and she had no problem with the company who would be managing it.

“My problem was giving all three properties (the convention center, city auditorium and community center) to the company at the same time,” Mathis said. “I know in the future it could possibly be that the rate increases and there could be a change in the way they’re managed.”

Mathis and Gray both said they thought the community center and auditorium were designated to be used by the community and that they did not think that it was a good idea for them to be managed by a private company.

“The people have an understanding of how to use those facilities, and I don’t’ want conventions to knock all that out,” Mathis said.

Gray echoed Mathis’ sentiments.

“I feel the community center is just what it says it is — for the community,” Gray said.

Gray also said he wasn’t sure if there was a conflict because former city attorney Brown, who is currently wrapping up some work he did with the city.

In other business, the board gave Mayor Phillip West the authority to discuss offer the job of city planner to Dennis Story. Story requested to work for the city through a contract, West said. Tuesday night, West said he had not had a chance to discuss the details of the contract with Story.

The board went into executive session to discuss the riverfront development proposals but did not vote. The meeting was adjourned until 5 p.m. Monday, at which time they will reconvene.

The board will not meet again until January.