Partnership key to sports complex

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A public-private partnership may be the most efficient and most cost effective way to get a sports complex built, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday.

Flaggs mentioned the possibility of a public-private enterprise to build the multipurpose facility along with two proposed taxing plans at a meeting of the city’s committee charged with studying the feasibility, financing and marketing of the proposed complex.

He said after the meeting there have been “very productive discussions” between City Attorney Nancy Thomas and a private party, but would not name the party or any details. Other committee members, he said, seem to agree.

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“It seems, based on yesterday’s meeting, there was a general consensus between the city and the (county) board that was best route and least risk to the taxpayer. That’s what I like about it,” he said. “That protects the taxpayers’ money better than anything else we talked about.”

Although no plan to finance the proposed project has been decided, he plans to present two resolutions seeking legislation for the project at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“The purpose of going with something now is to get it in the Legislature and not miss a deadline for legislative authority,” he said. “You can always modify and amend the bill. You would have legislation with a number on it. We can modify it as we go.”

He said the proposed sports complex project cost is capped at $20 million, “because when you take that and our $18 million (bond issue) for capital improvements, it’s going to be within our (borrowing) limit, which is $46 million. I don’t want to just run it all the way to the end. I don’t think we’re locked in to $20 million for a facility, or 15 or 10. We just need to do what’s best and what we can afford.”

Besides discussing a public-private option, the committee examined two proposed food and beverage and hotel taxes: a countywide tax or one levied by the city on restaurants and hotels within the city limits.

Figures prepared by the city’s accounting office projected a countywide food and beverage and lodging levy would average from $1.137 million to $2.27 million a year based on a tax of from 1 to 2 percent. Using the 1 to 2 percent values, a citywide tax would raise from $1.11million to about $2.23 million. “We will not levy more than 2 percent,” Flaggs said.

The levy, he said, would have a repealer allowing the tax to end once the bonds are paid off. Warren County Supervisor John Arnold, a committee member, suggested keeping part of the levy after the bonds were paid to cover maintenance of the complex.

Whittington said the numbers were based on revenue from the present 1 percent special countywide food and beverage and hotel tax levied to support the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bringing in a private company as a partner, Flaggs said, could eliminate the need for a tax, “because they would pay for it all.”

He also suggested a five-member board with two members each appointed by the city and county and one joint city-county appointment to oversee the complex.

If the city went with a public-private program, he said, the private company would have the design and plans. “All we have to do is agree with it. I think this takes us out of it,” he said.

“That’s the best thing to do,” Arnold said.

Flaggs added the city might have to get legislative approval if it went with a public-private plan.

Flaggs on Dec. 23 appointed the finance committee and a site and design committee to examine the feasibility of a sports complex for the city and look for potential sites and designs for the project.

The appointments came after the city’s ad hoc recreation committee presented its report on the city’s recreation programs and facilities and recommended a multipurpose recreation complex. The new committees were appointed to examine potential sites and determine the feasibility of the project. The site committee has not met.

Flaggs chairs the finance committee, which includes, Thomas and City Accounting Director Doug Whittington, Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale, Arnold, who represents the county’s District 1, and county administrator John Smith. The county officials also serve on the site committee.

He called Monday’s meeting productive, adding, “I think we’re headed in the right direction and I feel good about our future.”

He said after the meeting that both committees might need expert help before making a final decision.

“We have run out of opinions,” he said. “We’re now at the level of producing something and it will probably require us to get a professional opinion, because the city does not have the capability to do a feasibility or marketing analysis. That’s going to be needed to show how the money’s being spent and that it’s an investment.”

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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