Expanding Mississippi Coast Coliseum Celebrates Topping Off

Tourism officials in Biloxi, Miss., are celebrating continued progress on the $68 million expansion of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, which held a topping off ceremony last week. According to local media reports, construction crews are working hard to finish the project as quickly as possible in advance of its summer 2009 opening so that the Gulf Coast region can begin generating much-needed revenues with which to counteract the negative impact of the national economy on local tourism.

"Once the convention center expansion goes on line it's going to give us [400,000 square feet] to market to the world," Coliseum Director Bill Holmes told local television station WLOX last week. "That's going to help us extremely while the economy is down because of the fact that we can get more groups in here that probably wouldn't otherwise come because of the tightness of the economy [and] the tightness of their travel budget. But when they're coming to meetings or conventions, it's almost a mandatory thing that they have to go out, so this expansion is going to mean a great deal to stabilizing the market into the future."

Work on the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center expansion began in 2005 and was originally scheduled for completion in 2007. The project was delayed significantly, however, due to Hurricane Katrina and will now be finished by July 2009, according to WLOX, although the coliseum's Web site reports a scheduled opening of October 2009.

Whenever the expansion is finished, it will give the coliseum and convention center a total of 413,000 square feet of meeting space, compared to the existing facility's 180,000 square feet. As a result, the facility will be able to accommodate larger groups of up to 6,000 attendees, which Holmes indicated Biloxi would be aggressively courting in the near future.

"The tourism commission [and] the coliseum commission sales staffs understand that we have really go to go out [and sell]," he told WLOX. "We've got to punch this thing hard. Harder than we've done in the past."