Harrison County Will Vote On Hotel Tax Hike

More than 2,200 Methodist delegates will pack into the convention center Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

"So yes," conference director John Moore said, "space is always a heavy requirement for us when we're putting on a conference like this."

Coliseum director Bill Holmes believes space won't be an issue as long as Harrison County voters go along with his plan.

"You're going to go out and vote for, for, for this issue," he said. The issue is a $68 million expansion of the convention center, and a renovation of the coliseum arena.

Robert Bones Barq will serve on a committee that campaigns for the expansion project.

"The facility is in bad shape, it's falling down," he said of the current convention center.

He supports the expansion, "because this isn't a tax increase on the residents of Mississippi. This is a tax revenue for the state of Mississippi."

The coliseum improvements would be funded by an extra two percent tax on Harrison County hotel rooms. Sixty percent of Harrison County voters must approve the concept when its put on ballots this November.

"When they see all that this project will do for them, how can you say no at the polls," Holmes said.

Supporters think the expansion could create 800 new tourism jobs, and new opportunities to bring even more convention delegates to this facility and its neighboring hotels.

"Let's hold each other's hands and make it work and make it happen," said Barq.

The bill Governor Barbour just signed gives Harrison County two chances to redo the convention center. The first vote is this November.

If the plan doesn't get 60% support, it can be voted on again in November 2006. If it fails the second time, the bill says no other convention center referendums may be held.

There is opposition to the coliseum expansion. The state hotel motel association fought against it while the bill was in the legislature, because hotels didn't have any input.

Harrison County isn't the only area where tourism tax increases are being placed on ballots. Pascagoula wants to add three percent to hotel bills so it can generate money that promotes tourism. And Hattiesburg wants to collect an extra one percent tax from restaurants, liquor stores and hotels to pay for a $12 million expansion at USM.