Mayor wants vote next year on rec complex

Published 11:29 am Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield has resurrected his plan for a sports complex and wants to put it before the voters on the June 2013 city elections ballot.

In a meeting last week about the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, Winfield would not say when he will introduce the issue again to the three-member Board of Mayor and Aldermen for approval and funding, but said it would be soon.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “There are other cities out there with plans to do something. We can’t let this opportunity pass.”

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Winfield in January proposed borrowing up to $20 million to build a sports complex at an undisclosed site.

During the budget meeting in his office at City Hall Monday, Winfield said his proposed sports complex will put no pressure on the upcoming budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Over the four months he pushed the plan this year, Winfield proposed funding the loan with a sales tax that went from an additional 2 percent tax on hotel beds and a 1½ percent tax on food and beverage sales to a countywide sales tax and finally a ½ percent citywide sales tax.

A request to Vicksburg legislators asking for them to shepherd a bill to allow the city to call a referendum to levy the tax was not acted on, and the project died.

The new plan also would involve a bond issue funded by a tax, Winfield said.

He also said he is developing a new strategy to promote the complex that involves more public participation.

“I’m going to put together a committee of well-respected people that will represent a cross-section of the community to work on the complex and take the politics out of it,” he said. “That’s what killed it last time. Poor politics. This time, it won’t all fall on my shoulders. The committee will look at locations, the plans and help market it to get support.”

He would not say how large the committee would be or when he would appoint it, adding, “I’ve only talked casually to a few people.” He discussed appointing a committee during the last effort, but members were never named.

This week, Winfield also would not say if he had a location in mind for the complex. Last time, he offered two sites: a 140-acre tract on U.S. 61 North, north of River Region Medical Center; and a 200-acre tract on U.S. 80 and Mississippi 27 adjacent to Warren Central High School.

Those sites, he said, are still under consideration.

“They are still viable and marketable,” he said. “The difference is finding a location that will help Vicksburg grow, not something to supply a need.”

The city’s two aldermen’s opinions haven’t changed.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman still does not support bringing it back. North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he is willing to study it.

“We’ve been through it before. We have a piece of property (on Fisher Ferry Road) and that’s where it needs to be,” Beauman said. “We either need to develop it or sell it and get our money back.”

The city in 2003 bought a 200-acre tract on Fisher Ferry Road for a sports complex for $325,000. City officials abandoned the project in 2009 after spending an additional $2.7 million for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work.

Winfield has said the Fisher Ferry site is not suitable, because part of the property, including the access route, is in a flood zone.

“A sports complex is needed here,” Mayfield said. “It will benefit the city and the county, and the last thing we need is to let it die on the vine. We need to do it differently. I can assure you if it’s handled the same way it was the last time, it will fail.”

He agreed politics helped kill the first proposal.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anybody, but somehow, too many politicians got involved, and it became a political football. That killed it,” he said.

“We need someone other than politicians to carry the ball to the public,” he said, “but we need to be careful how many people we appoint. Too many people and we won’t get anything done.”

He said a committee of three to five people should oversee the project.

“Give them the autonomy to go out and look at property and see how much it costs,” he said. “Let them look at the sites, narrow them down to two, and then meet with the board and make their recommendations.”

A new sports complex for Vicksburg has been discussed for years. An example of the kinds of events that officials have said would be hosted there is the two-weekend Governor’s Cup, which was played by 82 teams at Halls Ferry Park in Vicksburg during the past two weeks.