Sports Force makes pitch to oversee complex

Published 6:38 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

Under the proper circumstances, a sports complex for Vicksburg could be completed in 2019, an official with The Sports Force told the committee appointed to oversee the design and construction of the complex.

But Jim Arnold, the company’s director of business development, said a lot of things will have to fall in place before any work can begin on the city’s Fisher Ferry Road property.

“There’s a lot of things we have to figure out, but if in the next four months we can figure them out, then we’d be shooting for spring 2019,” he said.

He said one of the company’s goals is to create a tourism experience for people coming to town for tournaments by providing activities at the park and telling visitors about the local attractions in the community.

Arnold’s comments came Wednesday as he and Patrick Farno, The Sports Force project analyst, gave a presentation on the company to the seven-member committee. The committee made no decision whether to hire the company.

Several committee members, South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. will travel next week to see the company’s complex in Sandusky, Ohio.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen hired The Sports Force in late 2016 to prepare a feasibility study on the Fisher Ferry property, which was presented Jan. 9.

Voters June 6 approved a special 2 percent sales tax on hotel room rentals and restaurant food and beverage sales, which is estimated to raise about $2 million a year to pay off the project. City officials got the Mississippi Legislature in 2016 passed a local and private, or special bill, to allow the city to levy the tax with the approval of 60 percent of the voters participating in the election.

City attorney Nancy Thomas said determining what the city can do under the local and private bill is one of the issues that must be addressed for the project to go forward.

“We have to look what our options are under the local and private (bill),” she said.

There is also the question of funding for an access road off Dana Road that will connect with the par and Halls Ferry Road.

If The Sports Force received the contract for the complex project, Arnold said, the company would also manage and operate the complex with a goal of reaching a point where no public money would be used to subsidize the facility.

According to an artist’s rendering of the project, the proposed sports complex features nine multiuse fields that can be used for soccer, baseball or softball; and championship fields for baseball, soccer and softball — all made of synthetic turf, as well as a splash pad, ropes course, walking track and other recreation activities, including a miniature golf course.

Once completed, Arnold said, the park will be the only one in the state with all artificial turf.

The design for the complex uses just 75 acres of the 200-acre property and avoids any impact from flood-prone areas of the property. Arnold said the fields could be transformed into 11 youth baseball or softball fields, 18 youth soccer fields or nine full size lacrosse or full-size soccer fields if needed for tournaments.

“Depending on how you lay it out, these turn into quite a bit,” he said.

“But you have plenty of room to build additional courts or fields, depending on your need,” Farno added.

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, but the project fell through.

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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