Matt McDonnell
Executive Director
Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center

Matt has served at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center for 31 years. He began his career with the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in 1986 as Director of Operations. In 1989, he was promoted to Assistant Executive Director and in 2015 became the Executive Director. The $175 million multi‐purpose facility hosts conventions, tradeshows, concerts, fairs, festivals, sporting events and other activities that promote the economic, civic and social life of the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast and enhance the lifestyle and well‐being of Coast residents.

Matt started his career on the campus of the University of Alabama as the director of High Tide Productions, the programming arm for the Student Government Association. He promoted concerts and other events on the Quad, Coleman Coliseum and Bryant‐ Denny Stadium. He graduated from the University of Alabama with a BS in Commerce and Business Administration.

Matt owns and operates MVS Concert Merchandise a company he started ten years ago, by doing a favor for a colleague. He handles artist merchandise sales for all shows at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and the Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Matt is winding down his political career finishing his sixth term as a city councilman in the City of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Over his twenty‐four years in public office, he was involved in producing the city’s annual calendar of events that included car shows, art festivals and a host of other events. He is a member of the Mississippi Municipal League’s Hall of Fame for his twenty‐four years of consecutive service to his city.

Matt has served on the Board of Directors for the International Entertainment Buyers Association, was the State Director for IAAM District V, and served six years in the United States Army Reserve.

He has been married for 30 years and has two children. He enjoys speckled trout fishing, turkey hunting and college football “Roll Tide”!!!

CONTACT

Youth Events Converge at Mississippi Coliseum Convention Center
Mukesh Buch
June 12, 2017

Can you give a brief history of the facility?

The Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center originally opened in 1977 and the construction was funded through a local food, beverage, and lodging tax. The original cost of the facility was $26 million. In 1997, the center was doubled in size, from 100,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet.

Then, in 2009, it was doubled again and included not only a full-service exhibition hall, but banquet space, ballrooms, breakout rooms, loading docks, etc.

The facility, which is located just off U.S. Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi, has operated continuously for 40 years - except for a brief shut down in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.

What are the unique advantages the facility offers event planners?

The beauty of our facility is its configuration flexibility. We can provide space for meetings with as few as 50 people or gatherings as large as 5,000. For even larger events, we have an adjoining coliseum where touring shows, concerts, and sporting events regularly draw large crowds to the 11,000-seat arena.

In addition to numerous configuration options, the center offers a full complement of set-up equipment and an experienced staff to accommodate just about any type of event that a planner can envision.

What are the other services that you provide?

The facility was designed with robust utilities that are accessible throughout the building. Our 150,000-square foot exhibition hall can function as a single room, or be divided into individual halls, with each area having access to electric power, information technology services, and water hookups. The exhibition hall has floor boxes installed every 30 feet on center throughout that entire floor area and every column has 400 amps of power – enough to handle the needs of any event.

In addition, there are full IT services throughout the facility. The connectivity was recently upgraded to provide faster internet speeds to meet the needs of today’s technology. With the growing demand for live streaming and teleconferencing, every effort is being made to keep the facility ahead of the curve.

For catering services, we us Aramark, which is a well-known name in the food services industry. The full-service catering company has provided excellent service and we have used them since the facility was first opened. We offer a wide-range of other services such as decorating and audio/visual rentals. In fact, we can provide pretty much anything that is needed making us an ideal choice for planners and event organizers.

Our primary advantage is location. We are right on the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, our prices are very competitive.

Can you tell a little bit about the local area?

The facility is located at the heart of the Mississippi Gulf Coast known for its superb hospitality and where the sea food is fantastic. (We service fresh sea food that is literally being caught the same morning.) In addition to sport fishing, we have excellent golf courses, and fantastic art museums, as well as casinos. In fact, there are 12 casinos within a short drive of the facility. The area offers more than 11,000 hotel rooms – many of which are in four star properties.

What is unique about your site that should attract planners and attendees?

Our primary advantage is location. We are right on the Gulf of Mexico overlooking the ocean and situated on beautiful grounds covered with stately oak trees.

In addition, our prices are very competitive, the local labor costs are low, and hotel rates are not expensive compared to competing facilities. We also provide marketing assistance through our Convention and Visitors Bureau.

What kind of events are popular at your convention center?

We do a fair number of consumer and business trade shows, but we have really seen an explosion in youth-market events like: dance competitions, cheerleading events, and sporting events, such as volleyball and gymnastics.

In past years, we might have had three or four youth-market shows, but now it’s not uncommon for us to do three or four of these types of events every month.

We do a fair number of consumer and business trade shows, but we have really seen an explosion in youth-market events

Why is your location a preferable choice for this type of event?

The youth-market shows are not the type of event that would be attracted to the casino’s convention space. These groups are looking for nice rooms at a reasonable price with space that can meet their need. Because we can provide the equipment they require, such as on-site staging, lighting, tables, and chairs, they find us attractive. In general, they are looking for the value and flexibility that we offer.

It is not uncommon for us to host several groups simultaneously. For instance, we might have a dance competition in one hall, some gymnastics meet in another, and a trade show in another part of the facility. So, it is the combination of equipment, size, flexibility, and value that makes our facility attractive.

We take a lot of pride in our service and how we treat our customers. For us, the measure of success is the percent of reoccurring business. Many of our clients come back every year and that tells me that, not only do we offer good value, but people enjoy themselves and want to come back.

Does the center have access to convenient transportation?

We have a regional airport about 15 miles from the center - The Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport. The airport is serviced by three different carriers and has daily flights between Atlanta, Dallas, and Charlotte.

Interstate 10, just to our north, which runs from Florida to California, and that puts us less than two hours away from New Orleans and Pensacola. We don’t have cruise ships here yet, but there are discussions about bringing cruise ships to our port.

What are your future development plans?

We are expecting a new hotel to be built on the site, which would be connected directly to the convention center, by 2020. Once that occurs, I can see the need for an additional 200,000 square feet of space, but that would not occur until sometime after 2022 or 2023.

How do you see the industry evolving in the next one or two years?

The convention industry is certainly competitive with many communities competing for events and trade shows to stimulate their local economies.

You see a lot of convention centers discounting their space and being subsidized by local visitor bureaus. I expect that type of aggressive marketing will continue or even increase as convention centers try to hold on to existing clients or attract new business.

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