Committee still planning site tour for complex

Published 12:04 pm Friday, July 17, 2015

Although they haven’t toured the sites they selected in May, members of the committee charged with finding a site for a proposed sports complex for Vicksburg agreed Thursday it’s time to start reducing the list to one location as soon as they tour the properties and have the city’s sports complex consultant analyze them.

Four of the committee’s seven members met Thursday afternoon to discuss the sites and agreed to meet sometime next week and tour the properties. South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson also wanted Missouri-based Diamante Global/JCI Holdings LLC, the city’s consultant for the sports complex site, to do an analysis of each site to determine its feasibility.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who with Thompson chairs the committee, said it needed to get the tours done and put something on the table. He said some residents were getting upset with the delay.

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“It still point blank bothers me that we have not yet nailed down a property,” he said. “The citizens that really want this are already at a breaking point where they’re saying, ‘Cut the BS and get it done.’”

He said he was stopped recently by a doctor who criticized the city for taking so long to find a site.

The committee in May named three potential sites: property on Mississippi 27 near U.S. 80, U.S. 61 North south of Merit Health River Region Medical Center and Ring Road off U.S. 61 South, southeast of the Vicksburg Municipal Airport. The airport became a fourth possibility June 8 when Mayor George Flaggs Jr. mentioned it as a possible site.

The committee briefly discussed another tract of land off U.S. 61 North Thursday.

Stormy weather and state conferences in May prevented the committee, which besides Thompson and Mayfield includes Warren County Supervisors John Arnold and Bill Lauderdale, county administrator John Smith, public works director Garnet Van Norman and parks and recreation director Joe Graves, from visiting the sites. The committee last met in May. A recent attempt to meet was unsuccessful.

The committee’s biggest concern is finding a suitable tract large enough to build the complex for the least cost in site preparation. And finding flat land in Warren County is difficult.

Mayfield highlighted that fact when the committee met in May, telling the members it needed to be sure it found a site with topography that did not require a lot of dirt work.

“If you get $25 million over the next 15 years and you go spend $5 to $6 million on a piece of property to get the topo you want, you’ve defeated your purpose,” he said. “Let’s keep in mind from the word go, what you spend up front to get it prepared, is what’s going to hurt you most of all,” he said.

And committee members don’t know the geography of the three sites they selected.

They know they have two relatively flat sites owned by the city, on Fisher Ferry Road and the airport. The city bought the property on Fisher Ferry Road in 2003 specifically for a sports complex. Work began in 2009, but was discontinued when the city transferred money designated for the site to the Washington Street bridge project.

Thompson believes the Fisher Ferry property is suitable for a recreation complex, adding he would like to see a two-phased program to develop Fisher Ferry and whatever other site is selected.

“I’m not in favor of putting everything on one site,” he said, adding he supported using both sites “because we own it and we ought to make use of what we have. I think we can cut our investment by building the project in phases.”

The 57-year-old airport has flat land, but Arnold pointed out its Achilles heel, reminding the members that a portion of the airport property is in a floodplain.

In 2011, waters from the spring Mississippi River flood, which surpassed the 1927 flood, covered the airport’s south runway.

“You need to consider that if you’re going to use the property and building any buildings on it,” Arnold said. “MEMA (the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) will require you to elevate it.”

He added Fisher Ferry Road and the city’s property there are prone to flash floods. Hatcher Bayou, which is prone to flooding in extremely heavy rains runs along the Fisher Ferry’s northern border.

Thompson suggested the committee meet in the afternoons next week to tour the sites to see what each tract holds. But whatever site is picked, Mayfield said, the city will be faced with either doing serious dirt work or defending against flooding.

“No matter where you go in this county for land, your going to have problems,” Mayfield said. “Either the topo or flooding. If you use I-20 as a dividing line, if you go southwest, northwest or west, you’re going to run into a floodplain. If you go north, it’s topo. We’re in a position right now where we have to pick our poison.”

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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