Meeting about future of city properties ends with critical comments

Published 1:09 am Tuesday, February 13, 2018


NATCHEZ — During a meeting that ended contemptuously, city leaders met Monday to discuss the future of the Natchez Convention Center, City Auditorium and Natchez Community Center.

The city is considering issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for management of the properties, which hotelier Warren Reuther’s company, New Orleans Hotel Consultants (NOHC), has done for the more than a decade.

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At the conclusion of the meeting, Reuther made an indictment of the experience of the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission, which has asserted its oversight of the three properties’ management and operations.

Reuther propped up his own résumé with convention centers while questioning the qualifications of the NCPC board, specifically Chairman Lance Harris and CVB Director Jennifer Ogden Combs.

“Lance has never sat on the CVB, has never run a CVB, doesn’t have a clue what it should do,” Reuther said. “Jennifer — love her, great at what she does, but has never been involved in the CVB and has never run a CVB.

“Look, can she do it? Positively, but there’s areas that need to be restructured.”

Harris retorted back immediately, defending the commission.

“With all due respect, myself and the other commissioners have been on hand for 17 months now and I think we’ve done a tremendous job … and Jennifer is top-notch, and we absolutely adore her.”

The meeting’s participants consisted of the city’s public properties committee, made up of Ward 6 Alderman and committee chairman Dan Dillard, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, and Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving, Reuther and NOHC’s attorney, Walter Brown, and members of the NCPC.

Toward the beginning of the meeting, Dillard laid out what the parties were looking at in the near future.

“On moving forward with the upcoming consideration for requests for proposals for the operations and the management of  (three properties), we’re not there yet, but we’ll be formulating an RFP for that,” Dillard said. “I think that the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission that as the lead entity for the advertising, promoting and marketing (of) the City of Natchez, can certainly make a contributing commentaries and point out some of the things that we need to look at going forward.

“We’ve been very successful with the operations of the Natchez Convention Center, and if we look forward, I think we can make it even better.”

Dillard said the city must “revamp our game” by enhancing its venues, technologies and self-marketing and that management of the convention center would play a role in that progression.

Harris said his board was willing to work with the city for the management of those properties.

But both Reuther and Brown pitched NOHC’s continued services hoping to forgo the RFP process and simply renegotiate with the city, though Brown said NOHC had no objection to whatever the city decided.

The management agreement between the city and NOHC was set to expire at the end of September 2017, but the two parties extended the contract on a temporary basis to give the aldermen time to decide how to proceed.

Responding to assertions Harris made that the NCPC has governing authority to oversee the management and operations of the convention center, Brown said the aldermen had the authority to delegate those duties.

“This board (of aldermen) clearly has authority to outsource the management of the convention center,” Brown said.

Brown cited a Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion sought by Tupelo that backed his point.

Harris countered with his own AG opinion requested by the NCPC that stated, as of Oct. 1, 2017, the NCPC “it’s clear that the commission is vested with the authority to manage and or operate the Natchez Convention Center, Community Center and Auditorium.”

The public properties committee and NCPC agreed to form a joint committee and reconvene later this month to further discuss the outlook in terms of management.

Part of the discussion, they said, would revolve around a financial review of the convention center, which officials said would be released today.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she believes the review should be made accessible to the entire public. Though City Attorney Bob Latham said nothing prevented the city from releasing the review today, the committee opted instead to wait until the entire board had formally received the review and spread it upon the minutes at today’s 11 a.m. regular aldermen meeting at the City Council Chambers on Pearl Street across from Natchez City Hall.