BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Tourism Director Richard Forester books conventions that bring lots of people and their money to South Mississippi, but he said the coast loses business because the Coliseum Convention Center doesn't have an on-site hotel. That's why local leaders are trying to secure $100 million in unspent "Go Zone" money to build an adjacent hotel to the convention center.
Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the 200 room Holiday Inn that sat near the Coast Coliseum, a beautiful new convention center has come out of the ground. But there's only so much they can do with no hotel space to offer potential guests.
Coast Coliseum Convention Center Director Bill Holmes thinks his convention center can stand up to any in the world. The state of the art facility has a lot to offer. But what they don't have, he knows hurts their bottom line.
"The single most critical factor for the success of this building as a convention center, is having a hotel adjacent to it," Tourism Director Richard Forester said. "The first question they ask us is, 'Do you have a hotel attached to your convention center?' And when we say, 'No,' they won't even consider us because they don't have to."
So the chance to secure $100 million in unspent "Go Zone" money to get a hotel has a lot of people jumping through hoops to finalize a proposal by a mid-November deadline. It will be tough, but it is a team effort, starting with Governor Haley Barbour himself.
"I'm really excited about the fact that the Governor and the county and city officials have stepped in and said, 'Hey, we'll do our part,'" Bill Holmes said.
Community leaders are also lending a hand. They understand what this would mean for the future. They say it is very critical to the next step in their effort to become a premier destination. The ripple effect could be seen for decades.
"Then there will be other hotel and motel development within walking distance of this facility. There will be restaurant and shopping developments, which means more jobs, and that's extremely key," Forester said.
If the Go Zone money comes through and all the hurdles are jumped in time, they hope to build a 500-room "Headquarters Hotel" nearby. They are considering properties either south of the Convention Center on the old Holiday Inn site, as well as possibly buying out homes nearby to expand.