Consultant touts benefits of downtown stadium

The proposed downtown stadium would attract nearly a half-million people to the downtown area, would be one of the best sites in the four-state Southern League, and, more importantly, would help turnaround Biloxi’s sagging economy.

That’s the word from development authority Charles Johnson, who also said the city’s $21 million investment for construction of the $35 million stadium would be a low-risk endeavor for the city, considering the $15 million grant from the state and other incentives.

Johnson, whose firm Johnson Consulting has analyzed the economic impact of baseball stadiums for dozens of communities across the country, on Tuesday detailed the findings of his report, which the City Council commissioned to help determine the impact of a minor league baseball stadium.

Johnson said Biloxi has seen its economy erode in favor of neighboring cities in the last several years, and the city may see further decline if steps such as the downtown stadium are not pursued.

“You’re at risk,” he told the Biloxi City Council in a report unveiled Tuesday. “You have a small overall economy, but you have a larger tourism economy than anyone else (on the Mississippi Gulf Coast).

“You only have to pay for a portion of (the stadium), you get more tax revenues from it than anyone else and you get a chance to change your economy.”

The report noted that Biloxi has not grown post-Katrina as fast as D’Iberville, Gulfport or Ocean Springs, and that the city lags behind D’Iberville and Gulfport in many key industries. But it added, “The goal is not to take demand from Gulfport and D’Iberville, but to make the entire market stronger. A stronger Biloxi will grow the pie.”

Johnson, who became familiar with Biloxi through his work for the Biloxi Housing Authority, said downtown Biloxi was ripe for re-development. More importantly, he said, the 445,000 people who would attend events at the stadium its first year would communicate a shift in the attitude toward downtown Biloxi, showing “that the city seeks a residential and retail base, and it is taking steps to make that happen.”

He predicted that the downtown stadium would host 104 events in 2015, its first full year of operation. Those events would include 68 regular-season AA baseball games, 16 other baseball events (tournaments, high school and college games), 12 concerts and eight multi-day festivals.

The report also provides the first public insight into the proposed deal:

The city, it said, proposes to enter into a 20-year lease with an AA baseball team, with two five-year extensions. The base rent would be about $150,000 along with additional revenue based on attendance and ticket prices.

For instance, AA baseball tickets would have a $2 per ticket fee, not to exceed $500,000; other baseball games would have a $1 per ticket fee. For concerts, the ticket fee would range from $2 to $5, depending on the price of the ticket.

Additionally, the city would have $125,981 annually in city and county property taxes, a $406,000 annual sales tax rebate from the state for the first 15 years, and an annual $50,000 contribution from Harrison County. The city also would be able to sell naming rights to the stadium’s playing field.

The report: To see the 50-page report, click here.

The company: To read information about Johnson Consulting, click here.

The contract: To see a copy of the Johnson Consulting contract with the City of Biloxi, click here.

Background: To see Gov. Phil Bryant’s May 30 announcement about the proposed baseball stadium, along with comments by Mayor Holloway and renderings of the proposed stadium,
click here.

The study: To see the Aug. 6 story about the council’s request for the economic analysis of a downtown stadium, click here.
Council hears of East Biloxi road and debates on RV park and dumpster

The report on the proposed stadium in downtown Biloxi was merely one of several issues the City Council heard during its three-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon. In other business:

Road work: The City Council voted to apply for a $5 million grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to extent Back Bay Boulevard to Fifth Street. The $7.9 million project is expected to help spur a $50 to $60 million hotel tower at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, which is on Fifth Street, and a $200 million resort and convention center nearby, in the former Heinz pet food processing plant, which would be part of the Biloxi Boardwalk development.

RV park: The City Council heard arguments for and against a proposed RV park that would be situated off Wells Drive, near the A.J. Holloway Sports Complex. Councilmembers may vote on the issue during their Aug. 27 meeting.

Dumpster debate: The City Council also heard debate about whether it should override the city’s Architectural and Historic Review Commission’s rejection of the design for an enclosure of a dumpster that for years has served Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant and neighboring businesses. The city halted construction after neighbors complained that the project had not been approved by the AHRC, which later rejected the design. The issue may be voted on at the council’s Aug. 27 meeting.

Nighttime meetings: The City Council has voted unanimously to return to a meeting schedule that will see the first council meeting of the month begin at 6 p.m., beginning in September. The monthly nighttime meetings had not been held since Hurricane Katrina.