March 4, 2009
This week the county took one more step toward what until recently has been a mirage on the distant horizon, a sportsplex.
At its regular board meeting Monday, the Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority made public 11 sites under consideration for a recreation complex for youth soccer, adult softball and football.
Since funds have not been approved for the project, this may be a case of putting the cart before the horse. Any doubts about support for the project should have been eased at a public hearing in February when business leaders, parents and soccer coaches spoke unanimously and enthusiastically in favor of what has been termed a quality of life issue and an economic development project.
The city and county will split the costs of the facility, expected to be $10 million or more. It''s likely the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, which receives its funding from a 2-percent restaurant tax, will be asked to chip in.
The costs and sizes of the proffered sites vary widely. (For map: http://www.cdispatch.com/mashups/sportsplex.asp)
The Charles Miller family is offering a 55-acre parcel six-tenths of a mile north of Columbus Nissan for $4,495 an acre for a total of $242,250. At the other end of the spectrum, LBJ Development has a 135-acre parcel at the intersection of Waverly Ferry and Lincoln roads for $28,500 an acre for a total of $3.8 million. LBJ is represented by Mike Dunaway, the son-in-law of the late Ralph Williamson, who before his death acquired extensive land along Waverly Ferry Road in anticipation of a Highway 45 bypass that has yet to be built.
The two most hotly discussed parcels were not submitted, but have been included in the list of possibilities. A 156-acre tract of land adjacent to the Riverwalk owned by the Army Corps of Engineers has been under consideration for years. Priced at $474,864, the land has no roads to it. Two options have been mentioned as a way to access the Corps land, neither of them without challenges. Plymouth Road, north of Highway 82 would have to be extended and somehow taken under 82 or a new road would have to be built in the narrow strip of land between the Riverwalk and 82. Such a road, eight-tenths to a mile in length, would add as much as $1 million to the price tag and would degrade the natural beauty and tranquility of the Riverwalk, a park that has become a source of community pride. A single winding road through the woods would offer less than ideal access to a facility used by hundreds of patrons.
Another in-town site mentioned is Burns Bottom, the area surrounding and north of the hitching lot. Parks and Rec would have to acquire 31 parcels of land with a total assessed value of $462,840. It is naive to think that Burns Bottom residents, some of whom have lived there for many years, would give up their land without a fight or at the appraised value. Acquiring that land could involve years of legal wrangling.
We have argued in this space that such a complex so near Main Street could have a detrimental effect on our carefully nurtured historic downtown, another source of civic pride.
A sportsplex is a vast expanse of athletic fields. Quite likely, most of the time -- off-season and during the daytime -- those fields will be empty. Acres of empty soccer fields surrounded by chain-link fences, grandstands, lights and press boxes are not an enhancement for every type of neighborhood.
We urge the Parks and Rec Board and the ad hoc recreation committee to consider a choice with good access to Highways 82 and 45, such as the property offered by Grayco near the Macon-Meridian exit, which is minutes from the restaurants and motels along Highway 45.
The most expensive tract, the site owned by the Williamson family on Lincoln Road, is ideally located, though less visible (That could change when and if a bypass is built.). An almost $4 million price tag and twice the land needed could knock it out of the running.
We applaud Parks and Rec for opening up the process and allowing the public to have input. We encourage you, the public, to weigh in with your concerns and choices. All of the sites have pluses and minuses. We urge Parks and Rec to remain independent, to judge the sites on their own merits and to avoid the temptation to yield to political influence.
This decision will have long-lasting consequences on the development and the appearance of our community. We urge those charged with making the decision to proceed with care, caution and open minds.
Butch & Kathy Hill commented at 3/6/2009 4:09:00 PM:
Columbus has a wonderful history - now let us focus on the future. A sportsplex that is close to downtown that promotes our fair city would be in the best interests of our Possom Town. If we build a sportsplex/Recreational facility and utilize both the Corp land by the Riverwalk and the Burns Bottom properties we could build a Sportsplex that would be enhanced by the Riverwalk and downtown merchants. It would be surrounded with picnic and sitting areas along with enough acreage for baseball, soccer, football, basketball and all the in betweens that make a Sportsplex. We would have a place where families and friends could enjoy a variety of sports and enjoy nature. People all over Mississippi will visit our fair city and we will have serious bragging rights. We will also find ourselves with serious revenue for soccer and other sport competitions.
Yes, we could go a cheaper route - but we're not about cheaper, are we? We don't want to portray one of our finest efforts in a manner that in a few years we will have outgrown? Let's do it right the first time because if we do Columbus will have a Sportsplex recreational facility that we will be proud of for generations to come.
d sellers commented at 3/6/2009 6:05:00 PM:
what happened to the building of the skate park....I think it is a shame for people to be so closed minded that they think all kids play football, soccer or baseball/softball...there are lots of good kids who skate and the city of columbus is doing them an injustice by not giving them a share of the sportsplex.....most of the time all they get is a bad rap.....you know there are some people who play football and baseball that arent perfect....run a survey...you will see the need....you actually already know the need....please help these kids....they deserve to part of this plan......I know, I have a skater....and has been for almost 15 years....and he and his friends are awesome kids.....columbus, give these kids a break! and yes there are big, huge competitions out there that bring in lots of money, just not in the Golden Triangle.....If you build it, they will come!
Charlie Perkins commented at 3/9/2009 10:45:00 AM:
I think that Burns Bottom property is a good location for the sportsplex site. This property is very visible as you come into Columbus which is presently uninviting as you enter our beautiful city. A great deal of this property has been for sale for years due to the city building department cannot approve building permits in a flood zone which is based on FEMA's 100 year flood plan. This property would flood yearly prior to the waterway project in the early 70's. Although a small part of this property does flood, there is still a lot of land high enough to build on. This location is easily accessible with 10 roads, it is one of the least expensive, and the City of Columbus already owns a lot of this land. This is an excellent opportunity to clean up this area and would be something the city and county can be proud of.
The Army Corp property appears to be a good location but is not accessible. That is why it is the least expensive.
taylor commented at 3/16/2009 5:56:00 PM:
It is obvious that alot of time and effort has gone into the effort to build a sportsplex here. But, speaking from someone who has been to most of the similar venues in and around the southeast, there are some things I dont understand.
First, building out west of Columbus will encourage people to stay in Starkville, simply because there is more to do there. I have traveled alot and often choose where I stay based on this reason, because in tournaments you have lots of downtime. Since they arent helping pay for it, these doesnt seem wise.
Secondly, building near downtown doesnt make sense either. None of the nice facilities that host tournaments are located downtown. If you build a top notch facility the people will come. Nobody traveling in for the weekend to play baseball, softball, soccer is coming to shop downtown....
Thirdly, has the location across from Columbus Nissan been considered? Its the middle of the county and has great access. A big facility needs to have a huge rec league throughout the week and tournaments on the weekend. The other locations dont avail themselves to this thought at all. Building it there would allow for uniting the entire county under one system.
I want to see a sportsplex built here as much as anyone. But, i would like to know what blueprint we are following to make this happen? Whose knowledge and experience in this area are we following? Lets build it, but lets do it right!
Ed Persons commented at 3/24/2009 2:34:00 AM:
Ball fields are great. Another sports activity which other cities utilize to build youth is a olympic size swimming pool. Columbus has a Championship level group of swimmers in the Swim Columbus swim team. More kids would have the opportunity to be involved in this great sport with a certified pool. There is also the income from pool use during swim meets and summer swimming for kids and parents.