3Qs: BancorpSouth Conference Center

By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal

Last week, the BancorpSouth Arena took over operations of its neighbor, the BancorpSouth Conference Center. Master Hospitality, which owns the Hilton Garden Inn, previously ran the center’s operations. Business reporter Carlie Kollath Wells last week interviewed various officials regarding the deal and what it means for Tupelo.
Q: Why was the change made?
A: The original vision was for the arena and the conference center to be operated together. The funding didn’t work out during construction so they were operated separately.
In recent years, Master Hospitality said the conference center was having financial difficulties. John Oxford, chairman of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which owns the center, said last week Master Hospitality was late on its lease payments.
TRA broke the contract Wednesday and Master Hospitality settled its account for about $514,500, including all of the fixtures inside the center.
Scott Reed, chairman of the Tupelo Coliseum Commission, said the conference center fits in with its vision of also having a performing arts center downtown.
“We’ll really have an entire package to sell,” Reed said. “It helps tremendously to have one group looking at the entire complex and the big picture.”

Q: What happens to the employees of the conference center?
A: The Tupelo Coliseum Commission oversees the arena and is paying Master Hospitality to run the conference center for the rest of the month. During that time, Todd Hunt, arena director, will look for ways to reduce expenses by using arena employees at the conference center going forward.
Shari Neely, director of sales at the Hilton, said about 90 people are on the payroll for Master Hospitality in Tupelo. She said it’s hard to tell how many of those are required to make the conference center run because they work for both buildings.

Q: What about catering at the conference center?
A: As of Thursday, Joshua Simpson no longer is executive chef at the Hilton. The position was eliminated. He previously handled food at both facilities. He said he’s staying through the transition period then he will focus on his catering business.
Hunt plans to put out a request for caterer bids this month.