Behind the spotlights, Coast Coliseum at 40 is showing its age

The Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi turns 40 this year.
The Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi turns 40 this year. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

The Coast Coliseum is 40 this year and beginning to show some wrinkles and age spots.

Executive Director Matt McDonnell reported to the Coliseum Commission on Tuesday the roof needs repairs, the scoreboard is obsolete and the ice chiller had a partial meltdown.

But plans are progressing for a hotel for give people attending concerts and conventions at the Coliseum and Convention Center accommodations close by.

A new roof coating was installed on the Coliseum soon after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The 10-year warranty is expiring in March, McDonnell said. A new coat will cost $250,000 — and the roof has other issues. The “penthouse” atop the arena roof wasn’t restored after Katrina and it leaks during heavy rain, he said, and the gutter system needs repairs and re-coating.

Instead of doing the $300,000 repairs all at once, McDonnell said a spot re-coating of the rooft’s worst areas and repairs to the gutter will cost $50,000, and officials will hold off the more expensive work for a year.

“The remainder of the work will have to be done in 2018,” he said.

The Daktronics scoreboard in the Coliseum also was replaced after Hurricane Katrina and the Coliseum Commission had budgeted $14,000 for another extended warranty.

“Daktronics informed us that they would no longer warrant the board due to its age and the discontinuation of the components for this model,” McDonnell said. The Coliseum maintenance department has kept an inventory of 10 spare modules for the scoreboard that uses dozens, but now is down to just one. McDonnell said his staff is asking Daktronics if it will manufacture more modules to keep the scoreboard operating or determine if parts are available from similar scoreboards that were taken out of service.

During last month’s public ice skating season, 1,200 pounds of refrigerant were lost in the ice chiller. Repairs will cost $27,000, McDonnell said. A retrofit will be at least $400,000 and a new system more than $600,000.

The repairs will be expensive but operating revenue for the Coliseum and Convention Center this fiscal year is slightly better than last year,” Coliseum Commission Chairman Walter Blessey said. “While the properties have been operating at a deficit since before Hurricane Katrina, we’ve never had a deficit in operating funds.” Investments, office-space rental and other additional income have kept the Coliseum in the black, he said.

“We’ve not been a burden at all to the taxpayers — ever, ever,” McDonnell said. The Coliseum Commission gets no tax revenue from the city or county, something McDonnell said is unheard of throughout the country. “But it’s worked. It has worked.”

The Coliseum Commission is targeted to get RESTORE Act money from 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and next year the Harrison County supervisors will have control of all $7 million of the Coliseum trust fund.

The list of upcoming concerts and events promises something for nearly everyone. Hoopfest on Saturday will have 14 teams, seven games and tight security, McDonnell said. That’s followed by R&B artist R. Kelly, who has never played the Coliseum, on Feb. 11, and country band Florida Georgia Line on Feb. 16. Beyond that are a Monster Truck Jam, a Christian concert with the Newsboys, alternative spring break, Celtic Women and an I Love the 90s Tour.

The popular Crawfish Music Festival will return the last two weekends in April. “The commission has promoted this event for 25 consecutive years,” McDonnell said. “We have never lost money — not one time — on this event.”