Board talks convention center expansion, tax increase; vote expected next week

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NATCHEZ — The need for additional space at the Natchez Convention Center may result in an increase in taxes to help cover the proposed expansion of the building.

Natchez Convention Center manager Walter Tipton went before the Natchez Board of Aldermen Tuesday to discuss the possibilities of expanding the convention center by 20 percent, which will add more space for conference rooms.

Tipton said 13 conferences, which will house more than 500 people, will need supplementary space over the next three years.

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“Eleven are already on our books and will need that additional space, so there is a need for the space,” Tipton said.

The expansion plans call for doubling the size of the national room and extending the convention center out to Franklin Street.

“It’s not going to take away the parking on Wall Street,” Tipton said.

Tipton said the first step would be to get additional funds to provide for the expansion — more funds would cause an increase in taxes for patrons of hotels and sales at restaurants.

The projected increase — based on last full year of restaurant and hotel taxes — would include the 3-percent lodging tax, which will be increased by 1 percent to a total of 4 percent, and the 1.5-percent restaurant tax, which will be increased by 0.5 percent to a total of 2 percent.

A 1 percent increase to room tax would bring $166,000 to the project, while a 0.5 percent increase to the restaurant tax would bring $243,000.

“That’s about $400,000 where the additional revenue would come from to support the expansion of the convention center,” Tipton said. “I believe that once you announce this expansion, that you will see another hotel come to Natchez. Everything we’ve done so far in the long run has brought additional investment in Natchez.”

The increased taxes would eventually require legislative action, but would first need approval by the aldermen.

Tipton said the expansion to the convention center could cost up to $4.5 million, which the city will pay for by reconstructing the current bond.

Under the current structure bond, the debt should be paid in full by 2024.

The $12 million bond was issued in 1999 to build and furnish the convention center, as well as renovate the Natchez Community Center and Natchez City Auditorium.

The city refinance a portion of the bond through an interstate rate swap transaction executed in 2006 with Malachi Financial Products in an effort to save a projected $1.5 million over the subsequent 18 years.

The payment for the refinanced bonds will increase to nearly $1 million this year and average approximately that until the bond retires in 2024.

Brown said he would float the idea of restructuring the bond on the convention center to add 10 years and nearly $4.5 million to pay for an expansion of the convention center and fess associated with the project.

Alderman Tony Fields said while the tax increase will not be bad, he needs more information regarding the convention center’s expansion.

“We need to look to see if that is something we need to do,” Fields said.

Fields also showed his concern for the Natchez Community Center.

“I want to know if there are any long range plans for the community center as well,” Fields said. “It’s used the most by local citizens and that building needs some attention.”

Brown said the board will vote on the matter during their next meeting Tuesday.

Also during the meeting, a full audit report was not available for the board, however, the board was presented with a draft audit.

Accountant Deanne Tanksley, who has been working on the city’s audit, said one of the main issues of the audit being late was because of bad bookkeeping.

Brown said the city is continuing to work on the audit and rectifying some of the financial situations that the city faces.

“Those efforts have not worked as well as they should,” Brown said. “The good news is that we recognize the problem, and have additional guidance in areas that we need to address. Hopefully by (Tuesday), we will have the final product for the audit.”

In other news from Tuesday’s alderman meeting:

• The board voted for the adoption and enactment of a revised Development Code for the City of Natchez. The code, which controls land development within the city limits, is now easier to use, said City Planner Frankie Legaux.

The public can view the code in the Natchez Planning Commission office, located in City Hall, the City Clerks office, the city library and the City of Natchez website —

The code will go into effect Jan. 9.

• The board voted for the approval of $1,500 in donations to the Wreaths Across America program, which will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Natchez National Cemetery. The funds the city provided will help purchase additional wreaths.

• Brown reported 25 new jobs that developed in the month of November for the City of Natchez.

So far in 2014, Brown said the city has developed more than 400 new jobs within the city limits.