Increasing zoo revenue paces annual convention audit

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The recent sold-out Jimmy Buffett concert at the Saenger Theater was such a success that other entertainers are considering coming to Hattiesburg for similar events, Hattiesburg Convention Commission Executive Director Rick Taylor told the City Council earlier this week.

According to reports, tickets for the Buffett concert were sold out within the first 10 minutes. Taylor said that speaks well for attracting other entertainment to the Hub City.

“The Buffett concert actually has paid some big dividends for us,” he said. “Once that concert was executed and Live Nation had a successful event, we have received calls now from some notable folks who have called in and want to bring their shows here. So, I think it was a very good step for us; we were very pleased to do that.”

Taylor presented the fiscal year 2018 audit to the City Council Monday during its agenda-setting meeting. He said the Zoo’s financial success is driving the commission’s budget.

“Our earned income is up substantially,” he said. “Our Zoo is obviously driving that. We were looking just the other day at some of the earned income growth factors for the Zoo. When we started in 2010, the Zoo earned around $230,000. This year, we are at $1.6 million; we have passed that point in the current fiscal year (which ends in September), so we are going to have a good fiscal year.”

The increased income is drawing attention from outside the Zoo, Taylor said.

“That momentum allows us to bring in sponsors and also allows us to have confidence in taking initiative with things like the giraffe exhibit and other things that will draw more people in,” he said. “We think that will draw more people in and that will end up very well for the City of Hattiesburg and for the Zoo. We hope the near future has us knocking on your door for a little bit more land.”

The Hattiesburg Convention Commission oversees museums and tourist venues in Hattiesburg. Taylor admitted that “some projects that will not be able to sustain themselves,” but they are improved.

“The Eureka School, The USO, these are free museums,” he said. “(However,) we are having our lowest subsidy year ever with the Saenger Theater this year. At one point, we were subsidizing it at about $250,000 a year. Right now, we are about $25,000 subsidy this fiscal year, so we are going to beat what we have done in the past.”

A walkthrough at the Eureka School was scheduled Wednesday, Taylor said.

“At the time the fiscal year ended, we were 75 percent complete with Eureka School,” he said. “I know we are going to have one delay that is distressing with the elevator; that is the only thing that is preventing us from getting a certificate of occupancy and able to be at least used. Our plan next year is to go into museum development and design, and that will be a two-year process to craft that and build out that museum and be able to open it.”

Taylor said moving the Osceola McCarthy home to its planned site on Sixth Street adjacent to the African-American Military Museum is awaiting one of 17 signatures to clear the deed to the property.

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