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City’s rec committee to present findings Dec. 31

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2014

When Vicksburg’s ad hoc recreation committee presents its report to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at the end of the year, a recommendation for a sports complex will probably lead the presentation.
The committee was appointed in May by the board to examine the city’s recreation programs and present recommendations to improve the overall program over the next five years by Dec. 31. But the discussion at the committee’s inaugural meeting Thursday night quickly moved to getting the city a sports complex and getting support from city and county residents.
Although Mayor George Flaggs, Jr. and Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson have said they will not participate in committee discussions or give it direction, an indication of the committee’s potential direction came during open remarks by the board members before the committee began its deliberations.
“We’re going to get out of the way and allow you to do your homework,” said Mayfield, who represents the North Ward. “We’re not looking for pie in the sky. I’m willing to do anything that the citizens are willing to afford. If you want a $30 million complex and the citizens are willing to pay for it, I’ll vote for it.”
“You tell us what you feel we need here in Vicksburg and Warren County. Put your ears to the ground, open your eyes and put it together.”
Mayfield urged the committee members to visit other sites like Southaven’s sports complex for examples of the complexes. He also said any complex would have to probably be paid through a bond issue.
“We’re not here to promise anybody that we’re going to put X-amount of dollars into this, because you will never fund this out of the general budget, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “Whatever we do, we’re going to end up more than likely having to float a bond to do it.”
“Recreation is the key to this city to be able to compete with other cities,” Thompson, who represents the South Ward, said. “There’s no reason we can’t do what other cities are doing, even those smaller than us that may not have to offer what we have.”
Flaggs offered the city’s services and department heads to work with the committee.
“If there’s anything you need, any department head you want to talk to, let us know and we’ll make them available for your next meeting,” he said. Flaggs said the committee did not have a travel budget, but indicated money could be made available if necessary.
“We didn’t set a travel budget, because we didn’t know what you would need,” he said.
After the board left, committee chairman Omar Nelson initiated the sports complex discussion by mentioning his son was playing in a weekend baseball tournament at Winona.
“The time for us to move recreation (forward) in Vicksburg is right now,” Nelson said. “The charge is on us to get that done. This is the last committee formed to get this done, I assure you. There are too many voices in here that are saying the same thing and have said the same thing for many, many years.
“I’m going to stay in Winona Friday night, pay money to local merchants in Winona all day Saturday and possibly into Sunday, and yet we have all the accommodations, we’ve got the best business community of any city in the state of Mississippi,” he said.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the same equipment, programs and facilities like Southaven or Gulfport at the very least,” he said. “We’ve got a good group. I think we’ve got to take charge … we need to expand to get outside voices. We need to get the community involved.”
One of the problems with getting a sports complex, Nelson said, “is certain sections of he community were left out. We need to bring them back. We need to being every stakeholder in the community that wants to take part in this to the table, we need to give them input.”
One of those stakeholders, he said, is Warren County, adding the committee needs to try and get the county involved in the sports complex issue.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in October passed a resolution inviting the Board of Supervisors to form a joint committee to discuss merging city and county recreation facilities. The supervisors have not responded. Nelson said he would get the committee on a future supervisors’ agenda to discuss recreation.
“We need the county to be a participant,” he said. “If they decide not to, we’ll go on without them.”
The committee’s discussions mark the third time a sports complex for the city has been discussed.
In 2003, the city bought the 200-acre Fisher Ferry Road property near St. Michael Catholic Church for a sports complex for $325,000. The project was abandoned in 2009 after an additional $2.7 million had been spent for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work. The city has spent $55,343 since August 2012 to replace the concrete in the drainage chutes on the site with riprap and grout under a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality mandate.
The board in March put the property up for sale for a 90-day period. Information about any possible interest was unavailable.
Former mayor Paul Winfield in 2012 promoted an estimated $20 million sports complex funded by a half-cent sales tax. Flaggs, who was a state legislator at the time and had a hand in bringing a potential tax increase to a vote, opposed the project because, it had there were too many uncertainties with the project. The project died when the chairman of the House Local and Private Committee refused to introduce the bill.
“It (the sports complex plan) was a disaster from the start,” said committee member and business owner Rowdy Nosser, who is a proponent for a complex. “It got off to a bad start. We need to have something here for the kids. I think we can put something together.”
“I’ve traveled to different areas in the state with my grandchildren to tournaments, and I’m ashamed that they can have something and we can’t,” said committee member Wade Hammack, a retired coach and teacher. “Vicksburg is certainly capable with its location.”
“We are so far behind (other communities) it isn’t funny,” businessman and committee member Rusty Larsen said. “We need to step up and do something.”