Convention Center Makes Cuts To Fit Budget

A construction contract to build the Coast Convention Center expansion could be signed as early as next week, according to Coliseum Director Bill Holmes. However, Holmes says the agreement will come with some sacrifices. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors wants the new Tourism Commission offices to be in the Convention Center.

On Monday, Holmes explained to the board why those plans and others are being downsized.

A lot has changed since 2004 when Harrison County voters approved the Coast Convention Center expansion. Holmes says after Katrina construction costs soared, the lowest bid for the project came in at $13 million more than budgeted.

"We're looking at the rolled ceilings in the lobby. Instead of having wood, we can use gyp board in place," said Holmes. "The wave effect in the ceiling, that's like $1.5 million or something, we can do away with that."

Holmes says more than $6 million in construction extras have been slashed by turning to less expensive alternatives. The contractor has also agreed to knock 10 percent off the price. Holmes says early numbers bring the project at more than $60 million, but within the budget.

On Monday, Holmes gave county supervisors an update on the Convention Center budget. He also explained why $4 million in construction costs make plans for a second floor impractical. That's where the Harrison County Tourism Commission offices are supposed to go. Holmes offered a different idea.

"We could put the Tourism Commission in a facility attached to the Convention Center's west wall and build out those facilities," Holmes said. "They'll be able to get the money to go ahead and pay for those that will be actually half the cost it would have been if we had put them on the second floor of the new expanded Convention Center."

Holmes says the county will reimburse the Coliseum for money spent building the Tourism Commission offices. The county's financial adviser said that shouldn't be a problem as tourism revenue continues to recover.

Tourism Director Steve Richer told WLOX News that Monday's meeting was the first time he's heard of the proposal to build on the ground floor, next to the Convention Center. He says he'll discuss the issue with the Tourism Board at a meeting Tuesday.