Leaders look for good park examples

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A contingent of Vicksburg officials traveled Tuesday to Greenville, S.C., to meet with city officials, tour some of the city’s sports and recreation complexes and learn how city officials there handle its recreation program and manage its facilities.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. announced the trip at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Besides Flaggs, South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson, City Attorney Nancy Thomas and parks and recreation director Joe Graves were expected to make the trip. They are expected to return Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re going to look at their operations and see how they function, and maybe go, hopefully, to a Walmart or somewhere and ask (residents) questions about how they feel about their sports complex without giving our identity so we can come back and give you the best recommendation we can,” Flaggs said Monday.

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A city of 61,397 people, Greenville is located in northern South Carolina. It boasts 39 city parks, including five parks that are multipurpose, offering baseball and softball fields, disc golf courses, walking and bicycle trails, basketball and tennis courts, and playgrounds and picnic pavilions. The city also has a separate park for soccer with six fields.

Thompson said the diversity of the parks is something he’s interested in.

“We need to offer people a variety of activities,” Thompson said. “One thing I hear from a lot of people is ‘we don’t play baseball or softball; we’re interested in other activities.’ We need to address that.”

Thompson, who is a member of the city’s site selection committee for a sports complex, would like to see an indoor facility included in the city’s proposed sports complex, adding it could provide a site for multiple activities.

“We could use it for basketball, music events, other things,” he said. “We would be able to set it up for different events.”

Flaggs first mentioned the South Carolina trip in April — the same time he told the city’s site committee to look at other potential sites for the proposed sports complex. The committee met twice in May, but had to postpone May visits to sites at the intersection of U.S. 80 and Mississippi 27 and another site in the vicinity of Ring Road off U.S. 61 South, southeast of Immanuel Baptist Church because of rain.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who is also on the site committee, said the members are still waiting for the properties to “dry out.”

The decision to look at more sites came after several residents expressed concerns over a recommendation from Diamante Global/JCI Holdings LLC, the city’s consultant for the sports complex site, that the city’s Fisher Ferry property off Fisher Ferry Road was the most economically feasible site to build a sports complex.

Traffic was the residents’ major concern because the most direct access to Fisher Ferry is Halls Ferry Road, which is crowded with traffic in the afternoons when U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center employees leave work. Also, access to the property off Fisher Ferry Road is difficult and could require building an outlet from the property either directly to U.S. 61 South or to nearby Dana Road, which would connect the property to U.S. 61 South.

In May 2014 Flaggs appointed a committee to examine the city’s recreation program and the need for a sports complex for the city. The committee in December released a report recommending a multipurpose recreation complex on 270 acres of land featuring baseball and softball fields, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, walking trail and a multipurpose building with an indoor swimming pool.

Flaggs has set a $20 million budget for the project, and has discussed doing a lease purchase venture with a private company to build and manage the facility, which would eventually be owned by the city. The Legislature in March approved a local and private bill allowing the city, with voter approval, to levy up to a 2 mill hotel and food and beverage tax to fund the complex. A referendum on the tax is set for tentatively set for Jan. 12.

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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