Committee to oversee design of sportsplex

Published 7:40 pm Friday, July 7, 2017

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. took the next step toward building the proposed sports complex, appointing a seven-member committee to oversee the design and development of the facility.

The committee’s selection follows the approval of a 2 percent special city tax on food and beverage sales and hotel room rental that is estimated to generate about $1 million a year to pay for the sports complex. The special local legislation authorizing the tax has a repealer that will remove the tax once the sports complex project is paid off.

Flaggs named the committee of Omar Nelson, Linda Fondren, Rusty Larsen, developer Mary Jane Wooten, Vicksburg Warren School District athletic director Preston Nailor, Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce executive director Pablo Diaz and accountant Ted Boolos, at Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Ex officio, or non-voting members, will be parks and recreation director Joe Graves, South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour, city attorney Nancy Thomas, an appointee from the Army’s Engineering Research and Development Center and the general manager of one of the city’s casinos.

Nelson, who will chair the committee, Fondren and Larsen were members of the recreation committee that recommended building a sports complex in December 2014. He said he just learned of his appointment, and will meet with Flaggs next week. He anticipated calling a meeting soon after talking to the mayor.

“I tried to get somebody from different professional backgrounds and who came up with the idea from the old committee, and then I wanted to include the schools,” Flaggs said.

The committee “is the first phase,” Flaggs said. “The second phase will be to appoint a commission (after the complex is built) to oversee it.” He said the commission will be named by the board.  “I don’t have the authority to appoint a commission.”

Flaggs said he, Monsour and Graves are planning to visit a complex built by The Sports Force, which performed one of two feasibility studies on the Fisher Ferry property. The company also designs, builds and manages sports complexes. The site of the visit was not named.

The committees’ appointment is another chapter in the city’s efforts to get sports complex, that began in 2003 with the city’s purchase of a 200-acre tract off Fisher Ferry Road for $325,000 for a sports complex.

City officials abandoned the project in 2009 after spending an additional $2.7 million for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work.

In 2007, the city board hired USA Partners Sports Alliance of Jacksonville, Fla., for $250,000 to determine the feasibility of a proposed $25 million sports complex at Halls Ferry Park, including Bazinsky Field, proposed by the Aquila Group of Vicksburg that included baseball and softball fields and related amenities, a water park, a baseball stadium/ballpark and facilities for golf, soccer, volleyball, tennis and other activities.

The Aquila Group would lead the construction and management of the fields and sports facilities.

The project died after a study by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality found the site was not suitable because part of Halls Ferry Park was built on what was once the city’s landfill.

Under an agreement between the city and USA Partners, which was hired after the Aquila Group approached the city, the company would return the $250,000 feasibility study cost to the city if the complex did not materialize. The company field for bankruptcy in 2015 in West Virginia.

In 2012, former Mayor Paul Winfield’s attempt to get a complex failed when an attempt to get a local bill for a special sales tax passed in the Legislature failed.

Flaggs renewed the search after taking office, appointing a recreation committee in May 2014. The committee later recommended building a sports complex, leading to two feasibility studies on the Fisher Ferry property, the push for a complex by the board and the approval of the special sales tax.

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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