Florida court hearing expected on recouping city money

Published 11:47 am Monday, March 7, 2011

A circuit court hearing is expected to be set this month in Jacksonville, Fla., in the City of Vicksburg’s attempts to recoup a $250,000 fee for a feasibility study on a sports complex that never developed.

“We’re trying to retrieve any and all funds,” Mayor Paul Winfield said Friday. “We’re making progress. We did engage in a litigation with the developer.”

The $250,000 was paid in 2007 to USA Partners Sports Alliance and Chief Executive Officer J.D. Daniel, for a feasibility analysis of the redevelopment of the Bazinsky fields at Halls Ferry Park that would have culminated with a sports complex that initially was to cost $25 million and later, $40 million.

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The initial service agreement, dated June 21, 2007, between the city and USAPSA was signed during the Laurence Leyens administration. It said the $250,000 would be refunded if the recreation complex proved unfeasible.

Since, no study has been complete, no refund has been given and a new city administration has taken office.

In April 2010, the Winfield administration filed in Warren County Circuit Court a breach of contract suit against USAPSA and Daniel. Then, after the city found Daniel was living in Florida, it was forced to hire a Florida law firm.

City attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr. said Marks Gray of Jacksonville was hired to begin garnishment proceedings against Daniel and USAPSA.

“We found out (Daniel) had some bank accounts and we filed writs of garnishments against his bank accounts, personal and business accounts,” Thames said.

Daniel has appealed the judgment, and the Florida hearing this month is expected to address the potential garnishment.

In 2008, the Leyens administration negotiated with Daniel and USAPSA the refund in a form of monthly payments, but Winfield, who took office in July 2009, would not accept the payment schedule.

“I had refused to go along with that,” he said, adding that $18,000-per-month payments were not sufficient.

Winfield said he has sent the contract to the state auditor’s office for review.

Plans for a mega sports complex that would have been managed by a local organization, the Aquila Group, was derailed by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which had determined soil at Halls Ferry Park should not be disturbed because some of the fields were built on a former city landfill.

Because the Halls Ferry Park development project did not materialize, the city turned its focus to development of a sports complex off Fisher Ferry Road. A total of $4 million was earmarked for that project.

However, that project is at a standstill because the Winfield administration used the $4 million, along with funds from paving streets in the North Ward, to rebuild the Washington Street bridge, a main thoroughfare between Interstate 20 and downtown Vicksburg.

“The community had basically let us know that the Washington Street bridge was very important and it needed to get done,” Thames said.

In the lawsuit in Duval County, Fla., the city also is seeking attorney’s fees, expenses associated with the suit and at least $35,000 in interest.

A call to a number listed online for USA Partners Sports Alliance was out of service.