Convention center brings $8.7 million in direct economic impact?
Published 12:10 am Sunday, December 7, 2014
NATCHEZ — When 800 musicians descend upon downtown Natchez this week, they’ll be bringing more than brass and woodwind instruments in hand.
They’ll bring an estimated $435,000 in direct economic impact, Natchez Convention Center Director Walter Tipton said.
The Mississippi Bandmasters Association state band clinic will be in town Wednesday through Friday.
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During the course of the clinic, the instrumental music educators and students, college representatives, music industry representatives and professional musicians will discuss music and band leading technique, practice together and perform two large concerts. The second concert, 11 a.m. Saturday in the convention center, is open to the public.
But when the clinic participants aren’t working to become the best musician they can, they’ll be spending an estimated $180 a day, Tipton said.
That estimate is based on a per-person economic impact calculation formulated by the Mississippi Development Authority’s State Department of Tourism.
The estimate includes $100 per room, $30 for meals and some retail spending, Tipton said.
“This formula is not for some generic event where a family of four comes for the day, like a balloon festival,” said Tom Van Hyning, who with the MDA helped develop the formula for Natchez several years ago.
“It’s in the context of conventions, and of course in some of those the meals are covered, and occasionally a business traveler will travel with a spouse, and some might arrive a day early or leave a day late, and that is a good example where this data might not be perfect.”
But, those qualifiers aside, $180 per person is probably a good guess for an industry convention, Van Hyning said.
Tipton said the band clinic is one example of an overall strategy the convention center has adopted of seeking to recruit groups during slow tourism seasons.
“March, April and October are your strong meeting months,” Tipton said. “Basically, everybody is planning their meetings away from the extreme heat and extreme cold, and the holidays, so we have decided to go out and target conferences during those times for those slow times.”
The Bandmaster’s Association clinic — now in its seventh decade — was for many years hosted on the coast, in Biloxi. After Hurricane Katrina, it moved to Tupelo.
“We went to Tupelo to get this conference, which is the best of the best bandmasters, and they are all getting exposed to Natchez,” Tipton said.
“We are selling the entire town. They can go to Biloxi and be at the Beau Rivage and be one of many conferences there, but it’s sort of its own world, where in Natchez everything is five minutes away and if they want to get out and see things, they can.”
Those efforts include travel to trade events and increased marketing, Tipton said.
In 2007, the convention center hosted 32 events that fit the formula criteria, Tipton said, with a total of 9,735 attendees, 92 event days and a direct economic impact of $5,034,240.
By 2013, the center saw a 72 percent increase over the 2007 numbers, with a total formula-derived direct economic impact of $8,671,500 based on 74 events, 24,775 attendees and 152 event days.
“There is an association for everything,” Tipton said. “The Goat Meat Producers Association, the Left-Handed Batters Association — we try to target niche groups like that during the slow times.”
Tipton said the convention center is interested in working with local hotels beyond the Natchez Grand — which is operated by the same management company as the convention center — because the center wants to attract conferences with larger audiences than the Grand can house.
“We are very interested in the success of all the hotels,” Tipton said.
During the last fiscal year, the city paid a total of $1,020,396 for the convention center’s debt, which was originally bonded in 1999 and has been partially refinanced.
For the current fiscal year, the debt payments will total $1,024,337. The city will continue to pay approximately that much annually until 2024.
New Orleans Hotel Consultants has operated the Convention Center and the Natchez Community Center since October 2007.
The city pays the hotel group — which took eight employees off the city payroll but kept them in-house at the convention center — $24,000 a month, or $2,880,000 annually.