Coliseum Vote Spurs Debate

While the visiting Pensacola Ice Pilots practiced, Mississippi Coast Coliseum officials stood in an adjacent hallway and complained about the tattered seats circling the rink.

"We deserve a coliseum with new padded seats, better restrooms, and an expanded convention center," committee chairman Woody Bailey said.

Bailey heads up the "Committee For Our Coliseum". That group is pushing for the coliseum and convention center's multi-million dollar improvement package.

"Harrison County is turning away conventions right now, because we don't have enough space," he said.

Bailey's group believes the solution to the space crunch is a tax increase on Harrison County hotel guests. The additional two percent user fee being voted on November second would pay for the $68 million expansion of this complex.

According to coliseum director Bill Holmes, "It's a user fee that our people won't be paying. It's on hotel motels."

If the referendum passes, Harrison County hotel guests would pay a 12% tax on their rooms instead of the current 10% tax. The additional tax money would pay for refurbished seats in the coliseum, an additional 200,000 square feet of meeting space in the convention center, and a new entrance to the coliseum off Popps Ferry Road.

Sixty percent of Harrison County's voters must approve the referendum for any of that to occur.

"The best thing about this deal is it won't cost you a penny," said Bailey.

This weekend, coliseum supporters will launch an ad campaign on television and in newspapers. If the coliseum referendum fails, supporters must wait two years before they pitch another expansion project.

There is a grassroots effort underway to block the coliseum project. Bob Bennett is one of the leaders of a group that fears what may happen if Harrison County overtaxes its hotel guests.

"This is the wrong thing at the wrong time and paid for the wrong way," the Edgewater Inn owner said.

"The two percent will have a negative impact on occupancy now, which is already not too good for independent hotels. And the reason is simple. When you take money out of a tourist's pocket and send it to the tax commission, it doesn't reverberate into the economy."

Bennett's grassroots group is called "Enough is Enough". That group also has volunteers fighting tax hike proposals in Hattiesburg and Jackson.