Southern Miss

Voters delivered funding for USM’s coliseum. What’s next for the aging arena?

After undergoing few significant upgrades since it first hosted a basketball game in 1965, Reed Green Coliseum will soon receive some funding for renovations.

Hattiesburg voters easily approved a tax referendum Tuesday night that will provide approximately $3.6 million - $1.2 million a year over the next three years — for USM to invest in improvements for the arena.

The 1 percent increase on the restaurant and hotel tax will generate $2.4 million a year over the next three years with half of the money going to Hattiesburg to fund improvements for the city’s parks and recreational facilities.

With 3,185 voters showing up at the polls on Tuesday, 81 percent of them gave the tax referendum the thumbs up. Only 60 percent approval was needed for the measure to pass.

The vote was a turnaround for community support in funding for USM athletic facilities after a $12 million bond issue failed to garner the support of 60 percent of Hattiesburg voters in 2004.

“It just strengthens the bond between the university and the city,” USM interim athletic director Jeff Mitchell said of Tuesday’s results. “We congratulate Mayor Toby Barker for his leadership. We enjoyed working with him and other city leaders. We’re excited and I talked to the mayor and he’s elated. Our department is on cloud nine as we prepare to implement development plans.”

The three-year tax increase could be extended another four years if the state legislature and the Hattiesburg city council approve an extension beyond the July 1, 2022 expiration date. No additional vote by Hattiesburg residents would be needed.

Mitchell said Wednesday that Jeremy McClain, who is on track to take over as the USM athletic director on a full-time basis in May, has plans to move quickly on plans to make improvements at the coliseum.

“We’ve had some preliminary conversations,” Mitchell said. “We plan to put together a leadership team to oversee how we’ll be working with the city and other departments across the campus. We’ll have the right people in place to make these improvements a reality. We’ll have a look at all the logistics.”

Some USM fans may look back to a 2015 renovation proposal by former athletic director Bill McGillis, but that plan required $35-45 million for a dramatic overhaul.

The upgrades that USM officials have in mind following Tuesday’s vote are on a significantly smaller scale.

“We haven’t made any decisions on it, but we’ll initially look at some fan-centric amenities,” Mitchell said. “We’ll focus on the fan experience and improving access to the arena.

“There’s a component where we want to be great teammates with the city. The city wants to bring in concerts so there will be some collaboration with the city. The basic idea will be to enhance Reed Green Coliseum through phases. We want to be good stewards of the money as the revenue is generated.”

Mitchell noted that any improvement projects will have to contend with the fact that the coliseum is still in use by both the men’s and women’s basketball programs and the arena plays host to other functions like graduation ceremonies.

“Construction impacts a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We want to chip away at these phases. We want to focus on the amenities associated with the fan experience. It’s a fan-centric focus.”

Some areas that may receive upgrades at the 7,000-plus seat coliseum include lighting, restrooms, concessions and a larger loading dock that could accommodate bands for concerts.

Now that the funding is in place for at least the next three years, the planning phase begins at USM.

“We plan on making the fan experience more vibrant,” Mitchell said.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.