Convention Center Proposal Outlined

13 March 2004

The results of a five-month study and analysis for a proposed Tunica Convention Center and hotel have been outlined in a public presentation made by PricewaterhouseCooper LLP recently. While there appears to be a lot of support for the development, challenges and financing are a combination that will not make for an easy decision when it goes before the County Board of Supervisors.

The final report in a meeting room at the new RiverPark museum was presented by Robert Canton of PwC to an interested audience of over 60 people comprised of casino executives, county officials and others interested in the project.

The company presented as an example of the convention center building program that would be appropriate for Tunica County of up to107, 000 square feet of leasable space that would result in a total gross building area estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 square feet, with an estimated construction cost ranging from $38 to $49 million. Also presented was the need for a 300-to-500-room "integrated" headquarters hotel that would be critical to the success of the proposed convention center. Such a connected hotel could cost between $30 and $50 million and a public-private ownership of it was discussed.

"There are economic benefits to be gained and the center can be a catalyst for other community events, "said Canton. "And the hotel is a critical issue."

PwC built the analysis from interviews, physical inspection of regional meeting facilities, surveys of past and potential customers, analysis of facilities in comparable and competitive destinations and evaluation of Tunica Resources.

Relative to the competitive destinations, PwC identified some strengths and challenges associated with the County's ability to compete within the convention industry. These included:

  • Strength: Destination-wide high quality hotel supply of 5,888 rooms in the county.

  • Strength: Existing air access in Memphis and potential of Tunica's airport.

  • Strength: Low cost destination.

  • Challenge: Limited Convention & Visitors Bureau budget.

  • Challenge: Necessity for proximate hotel rooms.

A survey of possible customers for the center indicated a variety of positive references to Tunica County potential for success, PwC pointed out. These included central location, low cost, gaming and entertainment advantages posed by the County's nine casinos, proximity to Memphis and accessibility. The survey also indicated several challenges that need to be overcome, including the perception of being too far from Memphis International Airport, location not central in Mississippi, perception of too few quality restaurants, negative aspects of gaming, perception of too few attractions/entertainment other than gaming, and a general lack of awareness of what Tunica County has to offer.

One of several casino general managers present, Dom Mezzetta of Fitzgeralds, told Jackpot that "this development can be a great benefit for the area as well as for the casinos industry and would make Tunica Resorts a major player and aid growth in the future."

The proposed site for the center would be just north of the new Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club on Highway 61.

Jon Lucas, president of Caesars Entertainment Tunica Casino Group, said the location was ideal and the County was to be commended for its continuing efforts to grow the market through aggressive amenity development. "Anything that will improve our prospects to be a destination location for visitors will be very helpful," he said.

It was estimated that the center would attract up to 25 conventions, trade shows and consumer shows annually. It was also estimated that attendees would spend between $13 and $19 million in Tunica for lodging, entertainment, meals, services and other areas.

In its summary PwC also stated it would be necessary to secure the cooperation of casinos by their participation in city-wide event "room blocks" where casino management committed a block of their rooms sometimes three to five years in advance to support the sales and marketing effort for the convention center.


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