USM Asks For Hattiesburg's Help In Athletic Expansion

Tuesday night, the Hattiesburg City Council unanimously approved a proposal to raise the hotel and restaurant tax by one percent. The move is expected to raise $12 million for the University of Southern Mississippi to expand its athletic facilities.

The money is just part of the $50 million USM needs to build several new athletic facilities and renovate existing ones.

Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini envisions an M.M. Roberts Stadium that's on a level playing field with other Division 1-A schools.

"For us to continue and maintain the level of competition that we want... there's no question that we've got to renovate and expand our athletic facilities."

In 2006, Southern Miss fans can expect "The Rock" to have artificial turf, luxury suites and 5,000 to 6,000 more seats so the stadium can seat 40,000.

Giannini says it's not just the football program USM hopes to enhance. The university still needs money to renovate Reed Green Coliseum and the baseball complex, as well as build facilities for softball, tennis and Olympic training.

"What we're asking is for the city of Hattiesburg to help us with the rest. We feel that the return on their investment is outstanding with the number of people that we bring to our community for athletic events."

With help from taxes on restaurants and hotels, Giannini hopes to attract big name collegiate teams to Hattiesburg. It's a move he says has benefits reaching father than the city limits.

"We truly believe that we are South Mississippi's home team. We get tremendous support on the coast and in Hattiesburg, south of Jackson. I think it will help us bring more people to the games, take pride in the stadium.

Even though the Hattiesburg City Council approved the tax hike, it must still be okayed by the state legislature and Hattiesburg voters.