Aquila to manage Halls Ferry fields as Vicksburg, Culkin leagues merge|[01/23/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

While final clearance is pending, the City of Vicksburg will hand over management of ball fields at Halls Ferry Park to The Aquila Group for spring play.

The city will maintain the fields and Aquila will be paid to schedule their use and partner with the Vicksburg Baseball Association and the Culkin Athletic Association to administer leagues at a cost of $60 per player.

More participation and lower costs for families are expected as immediate benefits.

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Aquila first came on the scene last summer, pledging to transform the city park into a $25 million sports complex, later increased to $40 million.

City officials fronted $250,000 for a study, not yet complete, on privatizing recreation as a means of increasing events, especially regional tournaments.

Tuesday, city officials authorized Mayor Laurence Leyens to enter a deal under which Aquila will be paid $245 per team, $80 per game played and three-fourths of all utility costs. Aquila will pay a fourth of utility costs and provide all uniforms and equipment, pay umpires, scorekeepers and other incidentals. The group will also operate concessions.

Initial announcements in 2007 indicated construction to improve and modify the 16 baseball, softball and other facilities at the 66-acre park would be complete in time for spring, but a delayed environmental assessment of the 66-acre site has set the timetable back.

To ensure that youth leagues have a place to play this season, construction could be held off, said Dianne Switzer, Aquila’s chief operating officer.

A required study by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality of the portion of the site that once served as a city landfill has caused delays. Results, initially expected in December, are now hoped for by late February, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said. The study would complete a feasibility report being conducted by Florida-based USA Partners to determine whether Vicksburg could support the sports complex. Beauman has also called that study a formality, saying the privatization is, for all intents and purposes, a done deal.

Youth baseball will be organized under the newly formed Vicksburg-Warren Athletic Association, a combination of the Vicksburg Baseball Association and Culkin Athletic Association. Girls softball is also part of the deal.

Rick Smith, president of the Culkin Athletic Association, said the new nonprofit partnership will administer youth baseball at lower costs to many families, and that combination of the city and county organizations was spurred by the Aquila Group’s investment plans.

“Aquila will manage the facility for recreational play at Halls Ferry. We’re going to have a board that will be setting up the league,” Smith said. “All money will come through the Vicksburg-Warren Athletic Association.”