City to gauge interest in convention center management

Published 12:07 am Thursday, August 31, 2017

NATCHEZ — Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said Wednesday at a specially called meeting he wants the city to request proposals for the management of the Natchez Convention Center.

“My recommendation is that we issue an RFP to see if there are any other interested parties out there; to see what can be offered for the City of Natchez,” Grennell said.

The sentiment comes a week after the board of aldermen moved to perform a financial audit (though Grennell now says the appropriate term is “financial review) on the convention center.

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Grennell said the board would not actually issue an RFP until after the financial review of the convention center is completed. He said the accounting firm doing the review had not quoted the city for the cost of the review as of Wednesday’s meeting.

The city and New Orleans Hotel Consultants, Warren Reuther’s company that manages the convention center, are coming up on the expiration of an agreement they entered into 10 years ago.

With the agreement set to expire Sept. 30, NOHC attorney Walter Brown went before the board at Wednesday’s meeting to address the near future. On behalf of NOHC, Brown expressed the need to examine options for “the near future.”

Brown said NOHC needed to notify its employees of their status, notify event planners whether their events will go forward after Sept. 30 and handle other contractual obligations leading up to the planned expiration date.

Brown also said his client — Reuther wants to negotiate a new contract with the city and continue in his management capacity. If the city, however, proceeds with an RFP as planned, Brown said NOHC would be among the bidders.

In the meantime, the two parties need to decide how to handle short-term management of the convention center. Grennell at first suggested the city and NOHC could enter into a month-to-month agreement and renew that on an as-needed basis.

Brown responded that he would prefer a contract for a fixed amount of time rather than going month-to-month. He suggested the sides arrange an agreement for a 90-day period or longer.

Grennell said the entities could do a 90-day agreement and then renew monthly as needed afterward, which Brown said sounded fine.

The board and Brown agreed to have a short-term agreement prepared for the board of aldermen’s Sept. 19 meeting.

Referring to the RFP process, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked city attorney Bob Latham how long conducting an RFP would take. Latham estimated it would take approximately 60 days.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith asked if the board would consider officially voting to conduct an RFP at the meeting, since she said everyone on the board had expressed a desire to do so.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she was not prepared to vote Wednesday and that she thought the board had agreed to set something up for an RFP at the next meeting.

Grennell reiterated his recommendation to issue the RFP and said it did not matter to him when the board actually moved to do so.

Smith again expressed her desire to vote on the RFP right away.

“My intention was just let’s be clear to the public, but we can leave it unclear what we’re going to do until (Sept. 19) — that will be fine,” Smith said.

Grennell said he would be unable to attend the Sept. 19 meeting because he would be out of town.