Convention Center opening marks another Katrina comeback

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Krystal Allan – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It's a post-Katrina milestone that could position the coast as a formidable force in tourism. A ribbon cutting, held Tuesday evening, marked the completion of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. Governor Haley Barbour joined state and local leaders for Tuesday's ribbon cutting celebrating the venue's completion.

"This is a fabulous monument to bigger and better. It's something everybody on the coast is going to be proud of," Governor Barbour said.

The renovations took five years and $118 million.  A tour through the complex showcases extensive renovations to coliseum arena and throughout the convention center with an expanded East Lobby and parking garage. The upgrades, according to Executive Director Bill Holmes, allow the venue to compete with markets like Tampa, Nashville, even Atlanta.

"We can handle 85 percent of the business that's out there, nationwide, in the convention and trade show business," Holmes said.

The ceremony became a rally session of sorts, celebrating what the coast has accomplished and what's yet to come by way of the newly completed venue.

"Not a natural disaster. Not a man-made disaster. We get things done on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Nothing can stop us," said Connie Rockco, Harrison County Board of Supervisors President.

"If you build it, they will come. Well, Harrison County you have built it, and now it's our job to get them here," said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.

One of the ways to get them here, according to state and local leaders, is to create a complex that accommodates people's business and lodging needs.

"I look forward to the day when there's a giant convention hotel right here on this property," Barbour said.

"That would catapult us even farther as far as our business goes.  We're doing good business now, but adding that [hotel] would take us through the Sunday through Thursday meeting times.  We'd have a greater occupancy than what we're experiencing now," Holmes said.

Among the amenities, the convention center features 400,000 square feet of meeting space.  It also has an area for general sessions that can accommodate 11,000 people, state-of-the art sound equipment and wi-fi.

FEMA money, insurance, CDBG funds and a bond passed by the people of Harrison County paid for the project.

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