Rec panel studies, county rec tables vehicle fee

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Members of Vicksburg’s ad hoc recreation committee Monday looked at examples of potential designs for recreational complexes, talked with recreation officials from Ridgeland and Tupelo and received advice from experts with experience in site selection and park design.

Separately, the Warren County Parks and Recreation Committee tabled a measured late Tuesday to charge $5 a car for all events at Clear Creek Golf Course in Bovina.

Discussions by the city-appointed committee were part of a move to get more information on area recreation facilities as part of its drive to develop and present a recommendation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen by Dec. 31. Committee members circulated petitions during the Aug. 2 Citywide Pep Rally and at the Meet the Gators and Meet the Vikings programs at Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools.

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“You design the facility not just for baseball or soccer, you design it for the community,” said landscape architect Michael Black of Dallas-based La Serra Studio, which specializes in designing recreational facilities. “You make it a community event. You include playgrounds and other things that people can come to.”

Black and Hunter Travis, a Jackson-based engineer who works with him, showed a Powerpoint presentation showing different sports parks in Texas, explained how each community looked at their needs, and the importance of site selection.

“You want an integrated recreation facility,” Travis said. “You have a lot of factors to consider. When you talk to people ask questions.”

Among the groups Black recommended the commission talk to were right at home.

“Talk to people in the (baseball, softball and soccer) leagues. I’ve heard a lot of talk about tournaments, but you have to meet the needs of your local teams first. Talk with people in the community and find out what they want to see,” he said. “It’s about the community; what the whole community needs. You want to give them something to participate in.”

“Assess your needs and build to those needs,” Travis said.

The proposed $5 car fee at the golf course was pitched last week as the county-appointed commission looked to close a projected $40,405.04 budget shortfall.

Discussions by the city-led recreation panel with Ridgeland and Tupelo officials were done through a telephone conference, focusing on the facilities in each city.

Ridgeland recreation director Christopher Chance said the city had two facilities. One, a 30-year-old park that was recently upgraded, and Freedom Ridge, a $5 million facility with ball fields that can be adapted for baseball and softball, and four soccer fields.

He said the park had three playgrounds that were handicapped accessible and a 1-mile walking trail. He said the city also had a walking trail in a neighborhood park and a multi-use trail running about 20 miles through city and incorporated part of the Natchez Trace.

Chance said the city’s parks are in use about 80 percent of the year for baseball, softball and soccer tournaments. He did not have numbers on the tournaments’ economic impact.

Tupelo recreation director Alex Farned said Tupelo has several recreational facilities located through the city for baseball, softball and soccer, and an indoor aquatic facility with an Olympic-size poll and a warm-up pool. He said the city also had a 17 tennis courts.

Farned said the economic impact to Tupelo from tournaments averages about $2 million a year.

The conference discussions brought a comment from Alonzo Stevens, who said that while Tupelo and Ridgeland were similar in size to Vicksburg, “they have the vision to make things happen. We’ve stagnated. It boggles the mind to see how far behind we are.”

“Vicksburg is centrally located,” committee chairman Omar Nelson said. “We have to do our homework so that when we present our recommendation to the board, it represents the will of the whole community.”

The committee was appointed in May by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to examine the city’s recreation programs and present recommendations to improve the overall program over the next five years by Dec. 31.

The committee first met on June 5, and began discussions that indicated a move toward a multipurpose recreation complex, marking the third time a recreation complex for the city has been discussed.

In 2003, the city bought the 200-acre Fisher Ferry Road property near St. Michael Catholic Church for a sports complex for $325,000. The project was abandoned in 2009 after an additional $2.7 million had been spent for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work. The city has spent $55,343 since August 2012 to replace the concrete in the drainage chutes on the site with riprap and grout under a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality mandate.

The board in March put the property up for sale for a 90-day period but had no takers.

Former mayor Paul Winfield in 2012 promoted an estimated $20 million sports complex funded by a half-cent sales tax. Flaggs, who was a state legislator at the time and had a hand in bringing a potential tax increase to a vote, opposed the project because it had there were too many uncertainties with the project. The project died when the chairman of the House Local and Private Committee refused to introduce the bill.

Reporter Cory Gunkel contributed to this story.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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