Jackson County supervisors question Coastal Mississippi tourism officials

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 5:27 PM CDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - Jackson County now has its three slots filled on the Coastal Mississippi Tourism Commission. Supervisors approved Greg Cronin, the former CEO of Charter Bank, and retired Ingalls president Jerry St. Pe to replace commissioners who stepped down in the fallout after director Milton Segarra resigned last month.

Supervisors were impressed with Cronin’s and St. Pe’s experience in many tourism-related industries on the Coast and their commitment to keeping open communication and cooperation among the three counties involved in Coastal Mississippi - Hancock, Harrison and Jackson.

The appointments were finalized after Harrison County Supervisors mentioned breaking away from Coastal Mississippi to start their own tourism board, which has since been met with backlash from some other coastal leaders and Coastal Mississippi Gaming Executives.

At Monday’s meeting, Jackson County supervisors had messages of unity, not separation.

“One Coast is alive. It matters, and regionalism matters more than individualism,” Supervisor Troy Ross said.

With the new commissioners in place, Jackson County leaders say it’s time tourism leaders consider input and ideas beyond Harrison County.

“You’re not a one-trick pony. You’re not just selling casinos, you’re selling everything,” Ross said.

The supervisors were able to make their comments to officials from Coastal Mississippi as they presented their marketing plan and FY 2021 budget.

“We have a $5.2 million revenue budget,” Costal Mississippi Interim Executive Director Pam Tomasovsky said. “We budget $671,000 from Jackson County. That’s 13%.”

Before voting on the budget, supervisors had questions - specifically about the $200,000 Coastal Mississippi gave to Biloxi for Highway 90 beautification.

“You’re a marketing organization and I think you should remain a marketing organization,” Supervisor Ken Taylor said.

Coast Mississippi officials said the money came from a fund designated to maintain the highway for tourists. Biloxi was chosen since it brings in the most tourism revenue and 80% of all coast visitors travel through the city.

Still, the tourism leaders say something else is in the works for Hancock and Jackson Counties.

“We want people to come down I-10 and see something pretty and go ‘Oh, let’s go this way,’” Coastal Mississippi President Brooke Shoultz said.

A grant from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality would give $1.1 million to the tourism commission to build signature gateways for the two counties as well as signage along major exits. The MDEQ funding for the projects may arrive as soon as this week, and the next step is for Coastal Mississippi to assemble an advisory committee to design the gateways with a goal to complete them by Spring 2023.

The goal would be to keep people coming back to the Coast.

“It costs us less to bring people back rather than growing the new market,” Shoultz said.

In the end, Jackson County Supervisors approved the budget but stressed coastwide success means more regionwide cooperation.

“We need to be taken a little more serious on your board,” Supervisor Randy Bosarge said.

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