Our thanks to Salem Bunkheila (left) and Rick Taylor (right) from the Hattiesburg Convention Commission for providing our program on Tuesday.
President Steven Utroska presided over today’s meeting. Mark Killingsworth served as a greeter. Jerome Brown provided the invocation and Denny Bubrig led the club in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Steven reminded members of the need to sign up to assist with the Meals on Wheels delivery. He also thanked Coke for providing the trailer and the water for our Hub Fest event coming up on March 28. Volunteers are needed to man the trailer and a sign-up sheet will be available beginning next week. He also reminded members of the need to contribute $100 each to our reserve fund. The money will be used to offset the costs of future club projects.
Michael McPhail thanked those who helped with today’s meeting. He then introduced our guest speakers. Salem Bunkheila is the Director of Operations for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission and Rick Taylor is the Executive Director of the Commission.
Rick and Salem gave club members an update on the Commission’s 2020 projects. They discussed the Sixth Street Museum District in downtown Hattiesburg. The district now has the African American Military History Museum. They will soon add an outdoor military exhibit across the street. Construction has been completed on the Eureka School and a limited number of events have been scheduled for the school. Oceola McCarthy’s home has been moved to the District and is currently being renovated. They plan to open the home to the public in late October of this year, on the date Ms. McCarthy made her contribution to the University of Southern Mississippi twenty-five years ago. In 2021 the Commission plans to add a memorial garden beside the McCarthy home. The garden will be in memory of Bud Kirkpatrick.
Also, the Commission has acquired the abandoned railroad tracks that run along the district. A spur will be added so bike and pedestrian visitors will have easy access from the Longleaf Trace to Sixth Street Museum District.
Most recently, the Commission purchased the Smith Drug store. Structural engineering studies will be needed before any work can begin on that museum. When renovated it will contain a soda and malt fountain, resembling the one that was very popular when the drug store was open.
The Sanger Theatre continues to bring in both local and national talents. They will continue to add events throughout the year and increase the number of block parties scheduled in conjunction with these events. Taylor says some of the downtown restaurants say their busiest nights are those when an event and a block party is scheduled at the Sanger.
The Hattiesburg Zoo is getting ready to open the new Giraffe exhibit along with new concessions venues and an Event and Education Center that can seat up to 400 individuals. The Center can also be rented and used by the public for public and private events. They will also add other African hooved animals, add two Giraffes in the beginning along with a Hyena exhibit. The Giraffe exhibit can house up to six and they hope to add additional animals in the coming years.
Taylor says the Convention Center is not now and probably never will break even. The main purpose of the Center is to bring visitors to local hotels.
The Sanger Theater and the Hattiesburg Zoo are now profitable and provide operating funds to support the Convention Center and the Museum District. Attendance at the Zoo has increased from 27,000 in 2010 to 177,000 in 2018. The Zoo brought in $1,785,658 of revenue in the fiscal year 2018.
To learn more about the Commission you can visit their website or give them a call at 601-268-3220.
There being no further business to come before the club, Mark thanked today’s speaker and adjourned the meeting with your motto: “Service Above Self.”