Hattiesburg residents voted on improving Reed Green Coliseum and city parks, facilities and sidewalks through an additional one percent tax for restaurants and hotels Tuesday, April 23. Reed Green will receive half of the total anticipated revenue, $2.4 million, if the proposal passes.
Dubbed the One Cent Proposal, Senate Bill 3069, will initiate the new tax June 1 and end June 30, 2022. Barker said he will push for its extension if he is mayor in 2022 and received positive feedback from the community.
Mayor of Hattiesburg and Southern Miss graduate Toby Barker has been advocating for the tax since Southern Miss president Rodney Bennett, Ph.D., asked the Hattiesburg City Council for financial assistance for the coliseum in 2018.
Barker said the city needs an entertainment venue that could seat more than 1,000 people and draw more entertainment acts to the Hub City and that Reed Green could be the place.
“We’re cut off from certain levels of entertainment because we don’t have a venue that’s big enough,” Barker said. “If you talk to folks that lived in Hattiesburg during the 60s, 70s and 80s, they had shows all the time—Commodores, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ray Charles, and they bring thousands of people in to see a show. As the industry changed and the expectations for what a facility can do in terms of sound and lighting changed, Reed Green didn’t keep up.”
Barker said things like improving the lighting and making more handicap accessible restrooms could be on the agenda for Southern Miss administrators.
The coliseum was built in 1965. The latest update was the installation of two high definition video boards in 2017, according to the Hattiesburg American.
This is not the first time renovations have been suggested for the coliseum.
In 2015 the Printz reported former athletic director Bill McGillis proposed a $35 to $45 million renovation with the goals of adding a practice court, replacing audience benches with chair backs, a center-hung scoreboard, ticket booth and more concession stands. The plans came to a halt when McGillis resigned in 2016.
Assistant professor of sports management Chris Croft said he plans on voting in Tuesday’s election.
“It is a positive step for both Hattiesburg Parks and Recreation and Southern Miss Athletics for Reed Green Coliseum. With a chance to bring in over $2.4 million total for each of the next three years, this is a huge opportunity for both areas to improve their facilities for both participants and spectators,” Croft said.
Croft said he would like the money to go toward better seating, concessions and restrooms. “These improvements are vital in order to make the facility more appealing for both attracting events and entertainment visitors,” Croft said.
Reed Green seats 8,095 people, according to Southern Miss Athletics.
The coliseum has hosted entertainment acts in the past. Rapper B.O.B. performed there for Eaglepalooza in 2017.
Junior criminal justice and Spanish double major Jessica Barnett was the director of Eaglepalooza in 2018, when the event moved back to Downtown Hattiesburg for the first time in three years.
Barnett said she considered Reed Green when planning Eaglepalooza, but ultimately chose to host it downtown because of stage placement and wanting to connect with local business owners and talent.
Barnett said she can see why larger acts might pass on playing at Reed Green.
“Location wise, we fall right between New Orleans, where major musicians play almost every week at the Smoothie King Center and other venues, and Brandon, where the city just invested in building a new amphitheater that has already pulled in bigger acts,” Barnett said. “I think that because of this, from a business standpoint, it makes sense for larger acts to choose either New Orleans or Brandon as their location to perform because they both have such big populations and therefore, larger pulls to that area for more profit.”
Barker said it would be impossible for Southern Miss administrators to raise all the money for renovation themselves because of a lack of higher education funding.
“When I came to Southern Miss as a freshman in August 2000, 65 percent of what it took to educate me was from the legislature. Only about 30 to 35 percent came from my tuition. Twenty years later, it is the exact opposite. While higher education funding has increased since then, it hasn’t kept up with what it costs to educate students,” Barker said.
Barker said Southern Miss does not have the “wealthy alumni donor base” that the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State have to fund Southern Miss Athletics.
“Dr. Bennett and his team have done a hell of a job lifting the university out of some financial difficulties. Now, our entire community has the opportunity to step forward (as both Oxford and Starkville did for their respective universities at one time) and deliver a win for both Southern Miss and the City of Hattiesburg. I believe they will do just that,” Barker said.
Barnett said she believes students might be unaware about the tax vote.
“I think that there is always a good possibility that students will vote; however, I think that the lack of proper knowledge on the increase may stop people from being aware that it’s even happening or what it’ll be used to improve. I think that encouraging college students to vote in their college cities is an entirely separate issue than just in this one circumstance,” Barnett said.
For more information about the proposal, visit onefuturehattiesburg.com. To find out where you should vote, call 601-545-4522.
Printz reporter Caleb McCluskey contributed to this report.