City moving forward with proposed sports complex

Published 7:55 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen took two major steps toward building the proposed sports complex Monday, announcing plans to hire an engineer for a proposed access road and hire a bond attorney to prepare documents to issue bonds to build the road and the sports complex.

Preliminary estimates put the total cost of both projects at about $30 million — $20 million for the sports complex and $10 million for the road.

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The board Thursday authorized city clerk Walter Osborne to advertise for proposals from engineers to design and prepare plans and specifications for the access road, and approved a resolution to hire the Jackson law firm of Butler Snow to prepare the bond documents to apply for the bonds.

“This is one of the biggest projects Vicksburg has had in a long time,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “The beginning of the biggest step on the sports complex. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. The credit can go to (former Mayor) Paul Winfield, (North Ward Alderman) Michael Mayfield and (former Alderman) Sid Beauman.

“It’s their baby; we’re just rocking it. But it’s a long time coming.”

The proposed sports complex will be built on the city’s Fisher Ferry property off Fisher Ferry Road near St. Michael Catholic Church.

Flaggs and the aldermen have indicated they want to hire a company to operate and manage the sports complex after it is built.

City officials in July appointed a committee to oversee the design of the complex and hiring a contractor to build it. The group has had three meetings, including one with Canton, Ga.-based The Sports Force, which was hired by the city to do a feasibility study on using the Fisher Ferry site. Sports Force also builds, operates and manages sports complexes.

The company presented plans for a complex of nine multiuse fields that can be used for soccer, baseball or softball; 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, built on 75 of the site’s 200 acres.

Flaggs, South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour, city attorney Nancy Thomas, recreation director Joe Graves and sports complex committee chairman Omar Nelson visited The Sports Force’s complex in Sandusky, Ohio, which is similar the company’s proposed complex for Fisher Ferry.

The access road is expected to go from Dana Road off U.S. 61 South to Halls Ferry Road to provide access to the sports complex and help alleviate traffic on Halls Ferry Road.

“The road will not only provide access to the property, but it’s going to be a tremendous help to ERDC (the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center) and its growth,” Flaggs said.

Funding for the project will be done through the Mississippi Development Bank, which issues revenue bonds for local governments to fund capital improvement projects. The bonds will be paid off by revenue from a special 2 percent sales tax on hotel rooms and food and beverage sales at restaurants that is estimated to bring in about $2 million a year. The voters approved the tax in the June general municipal elections.

“We will be the first sports complex in Mississippi with all synthetic fields,” Flaggs said. “This is one of the biggest steps forward this community and this city has ever made in doing something for the children.

“One of the last conversations I had with Sid Bowman was to please do something for the children and construct this ball field, and one of the last things I said to Rowdy Nosser was we’ll build it.”

The city in 2003 bought a 200-acre tract on Fisher Ferry Road for a sports complex for $325,000. City officials abandoned the project in 2009 after spending an additional $2.7 million for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work.

At the time of its purchase, the Fisher Ferry project known in the city files as Champion Hill recreation complex, and Clear River Construction of Jackson had a $2.38 million contract to do dirt work on the property. The project was supposed to begin in January 2009 and end by November 2009.

Clear River, however, stopped work in February 2009 because property was not staked out as promised.

In May 2009, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a change order to revise plans to avoid a wetlands area because Hatcher Bayou runs along the property’s north boundary. The city had to pay $88,865.88 in damages for delay between February and May 4, 2009, the contract price increased by $32,996.90 to $2,413,967.34, and the completion deadline extended by 92 days.

In June 2009, the city got a Department of Environmental Quality wetlands permit, paid another penalty of $14,152.61, and extended the contract deadline by 57 more days to April 2010.

Work was later halted when the city had to divert money from the project to replace the Washington Street Bridge over Kansas City Railroad tracks near what is now WaterView Casino.

In 2012, 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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