Planning for the future: Alderman’s preference of airport for sportsplex is move in right direction

Published 9:47 pm Friday, June 19, 2015

In a timely and much needed move, South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson this week became the first member of the Board of Mayor and Alderman to publicly announce he had a preferred site for the city’s proposed sports complex.

Thompson made the announcement Wednesday to the Vicksburg Lions Club, saying that he felt the airport site was the superior option currently on the table.

“We’ll see what the board decides to do with that, but in my opinion, I believe the airport may be the best decision when it comes to choosing the location for this project,” Thompson said.

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The airport does provide plenty of advantage, the biggest two being that the city already owns the property and it is already accessible from U.S. 61 South.

“I don’t think you can get more cost effective than using what you already own for construction,” Thompson said.

The city has proposed five sites, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. The city also owns a parcel of land on Fisher Ferry Road, but accessibility has been a concern. The other sites — U.S. 61 North near Merit Health River Region Hospital, a parcel near U.S. 80 and Mississippi 27 and on Ring Road — have better access than Fisher Ferry, but the city does not own the land.

The airport site, which was a relative latecomer to the list, is the only one with existing access and city ownership.

Of course, choosing to turn the airport into a sports complex has its downsides.  The biggest is the possibility of the city having to repay more than $800,000 in grant funding to the Federal Aviation Administration. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. has been meeting with Mississippi’s congressional delegates in an attempt to get the amount forgiven, but who knows if that will work.

It would also create layoffs of airport employees and leave Vicksburg without an airfield on the east side of the Mississippi River. Two airports in such close proximity might not be needed, but the city wholly owns the municipal airport, unlike Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional, in which it only has a 25 percent stake.

The sites — all of them — need careful consideration and soon. The city has imposed a deadline of June 29 for picking a site.

Now is the time to speak your piece. Let the Mayor and Aldermen know where you want the sportsplex.