Convention Center Debate Heats Up

Every inch of the convention center will have a boat sitting on a trailer this weekend. Ben Spafford is one of the dealers trying to sell his fleet of boats.

"I love this facility. I think it's awesome," Spafford said. "It works well for us."

If the convention center in west Biloxi ever expands, boat dealers say their show will grow as well.

"At least as far as boat shows are concerned, dealers cry for more space, absolutely," said Spafford.

Coliseum director Bill Holmes has a $72 million plan to expand his complex, so more large events come to South Mississippi.

However, some casinos think east Biloxi may be a better site for new convention space, because it's closer to their hotels. The east versus west showdown is something members of the Biloxi Businessman's Club say could sink South Mississippi's team approach to tourism.

"We've got a chance to bring it to the next level," said Robert "Bones" Barq, referring to an expanded convention center. "Why is Biloxi fighting each other on what to do?"

Barq wrote a forum in the Sun Herald newspaper that urged elected leaders to support expansion at the current convention center complex, not in east Biloxi.

"Everything is in place," he said. "The land is in place. The tax is in place. The buildings are there. The parking is in place. Everything is ready to go. And the interest rates are right. Let's not fight. Let's hold each other's hands and make it work."

The boat dealers have always had success at the coliseum. But if new meeting space took them to east Biloxi, Keith King said they wouldn't be afraid to sail into uncharted waters.

"It really doesn't matter to us," the boat dealer said. "We can display the boats anywhere, as long as the people come."

A casino report on where to build new convention space should be released on Monday.

If the current convention center is expanded, the coliseum would also be renovated. New convention space will only be built if the legislature approves a tax increase for hotel guests.