Birney Imes: Burns Bottom, come hell or high water

June 11, 2009

Birney Imes - birney@cdispatch.com

 

Ever know anyone who when they make up their mind, it''s all over? End of discussion. Don''t confuse the issue with facts or logical arguments. I''ve made up my mind and that''s that. 

 

As we say in the South, "if the Lord''s willing and the creek don''t rise," six soccer fields are going to be built in Burns Bottom. 

 

I''m not sure about the Lord, but you can be sure the creek will rise -- it has four times since December. Undeterred by that inconvenient detail, most of local officialdom in a straw poll Wednesday morning, voted to put what has been called the sportsplex, but is now six soccer fields, in the Bottom. 

 

Burns Bottom is one of three sites under consideration for the erstwhile sportsplex. A 156-acre piece of land adjacent to the Riverwalk overlooking the river owned by Army Corps of Engineers and 50 acres of land owned by Jimmy Graham west of the river are the other two. 

 

Harry Sanders, the leading and most influential proponent of the Burns Bottom location led the charge. Sanders wields a county checkbook fat with interest earned from the sale of the hospital. Realizing his hopes for the Grayco property were futile, Leroy Brooks voted with Sanders. So did John Holliman. As they usually do, Fred Stewart and Gene Taylor fell in line behind the mayor, who is a strong Burns Bottom proponent. So did Jerry Kendall. Frank Ferguson was out of town and Gene Coleman was absent. 

 

Lame ducks Jay Jordan and Susan Mackay made reasoned and passionate appeals for the Corps land, but for naught. 

 

Incoming councilmen Charlie Box, Kabir Karriem, Joseph Mickens and Bill Gavin were polled from the audience. All but Gavin cast their lots with the majority. Gavin, who grew up in Burns Bottom in a house overlooking the Hitching Lot, voted for the Corps site. (The previous publisher of this newspaper wrote frequently about Gavin''s father''s purple martins and their gourd houses.) 

 

Kevin Stafford of Neel-Schaffer offered a remarkably thorough and evenhanded presentation of the pros and cons of the three sites. He needn''t have bothered. Everyone''s mind was made up long before this meeting.  

 

Factoring in land cost and infrastructure, the price tags for the three sites are comparable. All told, the Grayco property would be least expensive at $3.6 million; Burns Bottom was second at $4.1 million and the Corps property would be $4.5 million. Those figures include land cost, infrastructure and playing fields. Thirty acres is all that''s needed for the fields, parking and concession. 

 

What the Corps property has that neither of the other two has is lots of room to expand, 156 acres of it. Stafford noted that while all three sites could handle expansion, "the Corps property has a dramatically lower cost looking into the future." 

 

Someone suggested the county purchase both the Corps and the Burns Bottom properties, estimated by Ralph Billingsley to total around $1.2 million. It''s a good idea. So is, as Sanders has suggested, preserving as much of the natural beauty of the chosen site as possible. 

 

The earlier argument for Burns Bottom, that it would clean up a blighted neighborhood, seems to have fallen by the wayside. Only one house will disappear in the current Burns Bottom scheme. The issue of security was not discussed. 

 

Jordan made the most cogent arguments for his choice, the Corps land. 

 

"We have the opportunity to make what would be a unique site in the Southeastern United States," Jordan said, "by putting a sports complex alongside the Riverwalk." 

 

He went on to tout the visibility from Highway 82 and the Waterway the Corps land affords. If the Riverwalk were extended to the marina, as has been proposed, the sports complex would be midway in the Riverwalk, he said. 

 

Then Jordan, referring to his experience in real estate and as a parent taking children to soccer games, offered the most convincing argument against the Burns Bottom site. "Never in my 30 years have I seen a soccer field attract real estate development," he said.  

 

In other words, build it in Burns Bottom and that''s it for that area. Forget any downtown residential or commercial expansion in that direction. 

 

In light of the other options, the Burns Bottom decision makes no sense. The Corps land gives you everything Burns Bottom does and more. There you have a beautiful, highly visible site overlooking the river with room to expand and no neighbors to irritate during late night games. Surrounded by nature and relatively isolated, the site is much more safe and secure. Soccer moms and dads still have access to downtown, and you leave downtown with room to breathe and perhaps expand. 

 

All logical arguments. Logical arguments falling on deaf ears and closed minds. 

 

 

 

Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at birney@cdispatch.com. 

 

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.