City to Bail Out Convention Center with $790,000, Stokes Blames High Rates

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The fledgling Jackson Convention Center asked the Jackson City Council for bailout money this week and got it, but not without pushback from two members, Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote.

In addition to providing the complex with $63,000 in funds to close out this month, the City of Jackson agreed to hand out $67,000 per month to the center until October 2020. That means that the City will pay out $790,000 to help float the convention center during the 2020 fiscal year.

"Today is about keeping the doors open and paying employees," Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at Tuesday night's meeting.

Councilmen Foote and Stokes voted against the extra funds in the 4-2 vote, with Stokes expressing concern about the center's high usage rates, arguing that a bailout was a misuse of vital city funds that could pay for more urgent priorities.

Plagued by Money Problems

Financial problems have plagued the 330,000-square-foot facility since its construction in 2009, and the Capital Convention Center Commission, which is in charge of it, has repeatedly asked for bailouts. The City has been contractually obligated to fund the center since 2004, when Jackson residents voted to apportion a "tourism tax" toward the center's construction. To raise the approximately $65 million needed for construction, the City implemented a 1 percent and a 3 percent tax increase on restaurants and hotels, respectively.

The convention center's regional manager, Kelvin Moore, blamed its financial crisis on not having a headquarter hotel. Having a hotel, Moore argued, as he did back in 2012, would draw in more business and make the Jackson center more nationally competitive. During his presentation before city council, Moore cited the success of convention centers in nearby cities.

Foote called Moore's bailout request "a big pill for the city council to swallow."

"We're sitting here trying to

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