City takes step toward building softball complex|[07/26/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2007

Vicksburg officials will advertise for bids for a $16.9 million bond issue that will include about $4 million for an adult softball complex off Fisher Ferry Road.

The project will move forward despite an effort by a local, private company to bring a $25 million sports complex to a different tract of city-owned property.

&#8220We will continue with our plan of building six softball fields,” South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said. &#8220The only thing that will stop that is (the other sports complex) project. But, we have to get something concrete (on that) first.”

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Last month, the city paid $250,000 for a feasibility study to be performed by USA Partners Sports Alliance, a Florida company charged with raising funds for youth and special needs sports complexes. If the study proves feasible, the Aquila Group, LLC, a company headed by Tammy Davenport, owner of Good Samaritan Physical Therapy, would manage the facility. The plan is to build up to 16 baseball/softball fields at the site of Halls Ferry Park and Bazinsky Field. The project, if successful, would put a halt on any work the city would need to do at the 200 acre site off Fisher Ferry, which was purchased by the city in 2003.

&#8220We gave them 60 days to make this thing real. If it doesn’t work, we plan on building as we said we would,” Leyens said. &#8220If it comes through, we won’t borrow the money. We can get the money, but that doesn’t mean we have to use it.”

An agreement between USAPSA and the city states that, if the agreed upon amount cannot be raised to bring the multi-million dollar sports complex to Vicksburg, the company will repay the city the $250,000.

In that case, the city would use the bond money, which would put the $4.1 million into building access roads and six softball fields for the first phase of the project.

&#8220We’re going to go ahead and get the road built and improve the value of the land,” Leyens said.

If USAPSA and the Aquila Group get the go-ahead from the city after the study is returned, Beauman said the city has options as far as what will be done with the 200 acres. Selling the land to a private company to build a golf course or selling it for use as a housing development are two options the board has discussed.

Beauman, former parks and recreation director, has said that building both sports complexes will not happen. The feasibility study is due to be returned to the city sometime in September.

Former Vicksburg mayor and financial analyst Demery Grubbs told the board that he projects to have bids returned to the city by Aug. 15. He plans to, then, have the money on or around Sept. 15.

The biggest chunk of funds from the bond will go to street repaving across the city. About $600,000 of the $7.8 million ear-marked for the repaving will be used exclusively for the revitalization project for the historic Oak Street corridor, a plan that was approved in December. The money will pay for sidewalk, street, lighting and draining work in that area, home to an assortment of historic estates that range from bed and breakfasts to often run-down shotgun houses.

The bond will also include $5 million on replacement of the Washington Street rail overpass at Clark Street. That portion of the funds will be paid back with federal grants from 2008 until 2011, Leyens said.

&#8220So, in effect, we’re really borrowing $11 million,” he said.

This is the second urban renewal project and bond issue for Leyens and Beauman. The urban renewal area created during the mayor’s first term began in 2001 and was along Washington Street downtown.

Urban-renewal projects are defined under state law and allow city governments to acquire and resell properties in areas they designate as slum or blight.