Rec complex And it’s one, two, three strikes ….

Published 1:02 am Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nearly 104 years ago, songwriter Jack Norworth penned the lines to the baseball anthem, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” For decades in the middle of each seventh inning, fans rise in unison, stretch their legs and sing the timeless classic. The last line declares, “For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”

In the city of Vicksburg, here we are in a new year talking about another shot at a modern recreation complex. Forgive the taxpayers if they are a bit weary of this on-again, off-again saga of getting a recreational park built. It is more than apparent that Halls Ferry Park has outlived itself. That park is equivalent to a big league stadium built in 1976 — it’s new at the time, but 30 years later when others have luxury boxes and modern amenities, how much more use can we get out of it?

The people of Vicksburg and Warren County have done their best in hosting tournaments and running the concession stand at Halls Ferry. But when big, money-generating tournaments look for host cities, they want the proverbial luxury boxes and modern amenities that Vicksburg, right now, cannot offer.

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City leaders have had other grand ideas about a new recreation complex for nearly a decade. In 2003, the city spent $325,000 to buy 200 acres off Fisher Ferry Road just south of St. Michael Catholic Church and announced plans to build a sports complex with softball and soccer fields and outdoor basketball courts. The city dedicated $4 million from a $16.9 million bond issue to pay for dirt work and construction of the complex, but work was halted in 2009 when the city transferred $2.2 million of that money to help cover the $8 million expense of replacing the deteriorating railroad bridge on Washington Street near Clark Street.

So far, the city is in for more than $3 million on the Fisher Ferry property.

Strike one.

In 2007, the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen hired USA Partners Sports Alliance of Jacksonville, Fla., for $250,000 to determine the feasibility of a proposed $25 million sports complex at Halls Ferry Park, including Bazinsky Field, proposed by the Aquila Group of Vicksburg. It would include baseball and softball fields and related amenities, a water park, a baseball stadium/ballpark and facilities for golf, soccer, volleyball, tennis and other activities. The Aquila Group would lead the construction and management of the fields and sports facilities. A study by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality found the site was not suitable because part of Halls Ferry Park was built on what was once the city’s landfill.

Under an agreement between the city and USA Partners, which was hired after Aquila approached the city, the $250,000 feasibility study cost would be returned to the city if the complex did not materialize. More than four years later, the city has not been reimbursed.

Strike two.

On Dec. 30, Mayor Paul Winfield said he will ask the Warren County delegation to allow the city to increase taxes on hotels, restaurants and bars. The bill would allow the city to borrow as much as $19.5 million to, you guessed it, build a modern recreation facility in an unspecified location in Warren County. Officials are tight-lipped about the location, but North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield has said a parcel between Culkin Road and River Region Medical Center is being considered.

The increased taxes — from 2 percent to 4 percent on lodging and from 1 percent to 2.5 percent on food and beverages — will hit tourists and locals alike in the pocketbooks. Ponying up more money for worthwhile projects is something that could be palatable. When asked for increased taxes for a third crack at a recreation park, taxpayers must be skeptical, even that anything will be built.

Vicksburg has an antiquated park that cannot be expanded because part of it is built on a former city landfill. We have a wide-open field south of town, padlocked; and now plans for a modern recreation complex without rival.

With only one strike left before we are “out,” let’s rethink the latest, greatest grand plan for recreation — and tax increases — and make the most of the people’s money.