Two large conventions fill city

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

NATCHEZ — A wave of conferences washed into Natchez this week, utilizing both the convention center and the convention center hotel.

Phil Waldrep Ministries rolled in on Monday, bringing 650 people, staying until Thursday, said Walter Tipton, director of the convention center.

He said the group had no meal functions at the convention center.

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“That’s important because every time you get to a meal, 650 people are out in our restaurants looking for something to eat,” he said.

Tipton said during the course of the visit, which was a senior retreat, they brought in several well-known religious speakers.

As soon as they were out the door, in came the Master Gardeners, which is a statewide organization.

This conference brought in 300 people, Tipton said.

“This is their annual statewide meeting,” he said. “This is the first time it’s been in Natchez and they’re discussing everything you ever wanted to know about plants and trees.”

Tipton said although the group finished Friday, several of the attendees will probably stick around for the weekend since the Symphony of Garden Tours is currently taking place.

“I can imagine many of them will be staying over for that event,” Tipton said.

Tipton said he’s gotten positive responses from the groups.

Now that the Master Gardners group is gone, a group of 150 nurses are in Natchez for a conference.

“As soon as (the nurses) finish on Wednesday at lunch, then we have the Mississippi Mortgage Bankers Association with about 200 people for a conference that fills out the rest of next week,” Tipton said.

Tipton attributes this influx of conferences to having a convention center that can house large groups, as well as many hotels for people to stay in.

“What’s driving this interest is the fact that we have this meeting facility and the new hotels to support it and we’ve been in business long enough where a lot of people have experienced our conference center and they now know we have the hotel rooms to support it,” he said.

In fact, the national group of social workers were in Natchez at the end of March and enjoyed their stay so much that they booked their conference to be in Natchez again next year.

One of the vendors for the Mississippi Nursing Association that was here in March booked to come back in 2010.

The schedule for conferences coming in is relatively packed, Tipton said.

Mayor Phillip West said this is the reflection of a worthy investment.

He said even though it was expensive to build the convention center and while the city is still paying off the debt, it was much needed in the community.

“Sometimes there are things you cannot afford and there are things you can’t afford not to do,” he said. “It’s been extremely costly to the city but in the long run it’s contributing in a positive way to the overall growth and development of the city.”

Tipton said these large conventions are what the city needs while rising gas prices whittle down leisure tourism.

“Even though leisure travel might fall off a little because of high gas prices, meetings and conferences are going to continue,” Tipton said. “It’s a good thing for us to continue this business because it’s less at risk than leisure travel.”