TUPELO • Things have been quiet inside the walls of the BancorpSouth Arena and Convention Center since early March.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been no concerts, no special events and no conference meetings. The lull is something Todd Hunt, the arena’s executive director, isn’t accustomed to.
“Being at home on nights and weekends is pretty bizarre for those of us in our industry,” Hunt said. “It’s not something we’re enjoying and it’s not something we want to continue to do long term.”
When the arena and convention center resume activity is anyone’s guess, Hunt said. The arena’s next scheduled ticketed event is Aug. 8. But with each postponed or canceled event, it’s an additional blow to a city that has lost major festivals and entertainment events this year because of coronavirus.
Hunt said the city’s economic loss from canceled festivals and events like the Gumtree Festival, the Blue Suede Cruise and the Tupelo Elvis Festival is estimated to be almost $5.3 million. The arena and convention center have seen a loss of almost 130 events since the last activity – a March 9 performance of the touring musical “Jersey Boys” and a March 12 corporate gathering – resulting in at least $1.2 million in lost revenue.
The first scheduled event for the arena is a concert Aug. 8 by country music artist Kane Brown. Hunt said venues across the country like BancorpSouth Arena are cautious about reopening.
“We’re hopeful we’re going be able to host that event (the Kane Brown concert), but it’s too early for us to say where we are. We’re taking a wait-and-see approach, talking to our agents and promoters and other venues around the country,” Hunt said. “We’re all in the same boat just trying to figure out where this thing is headed and when we’re going to be able to turn on the lights and bring people back in the building.”
One of the latest cancellations occurred Friday when Lynyrd Skynyrd decided to call off its postponed 2020 U.S. tour. The rock band had postponed a March performance for Tupelo to Oct. 16.
In addition to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the arena has lost events like MonsterJam Trucks, five high school graduations, a cheerleading competition, a music act that had planned to rehearse there and the Gumtree Father-Daughter Ball, an annual fundraiser for LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The Tupelo Elvis Festival is going virtual this year with no live activity in the coliseum and downtown Tupelo.
Among the events still on tap for the coliseum include WWE Live wresting (Sept. 12) and Baby Shark Live (Oct. 15). Bluegrass star Alison Krauss has postponed her 2020 tour, which includes a stop in Tupelo, but no rescheduled dates have been announced.
Hunt said he’s still uncertain at this time what the procedures will be like to ensure safety for anyone entering the arena or convention center.
“We’re working towards any changes we might need to make as far as how that looks when we reopen, be that temperature checks at the door, masks required or recommended,” he said. “That’s still to be determined. We’ll wait on what the CDC and the State Department of Health recommend we need to do to make everybody safe.”
The lack of activity recently forced Hunt to furlough about 17 part-time workers, which he said he’ll bring back when events resume.
Even though the facility is taking a hit during the pandemic, Hunt said it did receive a boost before the shutdown from Jason Aldean’s concert March 7. It benefitted from the country music star’s sold-out show, which set the record for being its highest grossing country concert, selling more than $634,000 worth of tickets.
“We were glad to get that one in,” Hunt said. “It’s helping us when we have zero revenue coming in. That was a big night for us and for Jason.”
One positive Hunt is seeing during this time is the ongoing renovations at the venue. He said the construction – including a new box office, new connection to the conference center and expanded hospitality space – will finish ahead of schedule.
“We’ve been able to accelerate our renovation at the conference center,” he said. “We’ll be finished with that in mid-June, which our original plan didn’t have us finishing that part of it of the work until June of ‘21. If there’s a silver lining, we’ve gotten some renovation work done well earlier than we planned.”
Hunt said he looks forward to turning on the lights again for concerts and events in the arena, but only when the time is right.
“We’ll reopen once the governor green lights us to start having events with at least 10 or more people,” he said. “Until then, we’ll stay dark.”