Birney Imes: Harry, this is a terrible idea

June 12, 2009

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Soccer moms and dads, before it''s too late -- and it might already be too late -- drive down to Burns Bottom. That''s the area just down the hill from Riverhill Chevron, the gas station/convenience store operated by Sanders Oil. At the station, turn off Main Street and go down the hill in the direction of the Hitching Lot, site of the Farmers'' Market. 


You''ll pass the Hitching Lot on your left. Go another block, then on your left slow down and try to imagine a soccer field. I know, it takes some imagining, just try. Go another block and imagine another soccer field. Don''t sweat the stuff on the right side of the street; none of that will change. 


To the west, strewn across the lowlands will be three more fields. Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders has touted this site because it will clean up a "blighted" neighborhood. 


The only thing this project will clean up is part of two swamps and privet-choked fields. One house will disappear. In the retail trade, they call this "bait and switch." 


Some people think Burns Bottom dangerous. Probably not. Certainly, it''s edgy. I stroll through there on evening walks two or three nights a week and am comfortable doing so. Not everyone would be, though. Would I want to leave my 8-year-old down there unattended to play soccer? Don''t think so. 


Will a soccer complex in Burns Bottom be the drawing card we hope it will be for tournaments and the like? Don''t take my word for it. Drive down there and see for yourself. Drive down there at night. Not just soccer parents, if you are a taxpayer or a resident of Lowndes County, this will affect you in some way. 


While certainly they are a community asset, soccer fields are not things of beauty. If you are a kids soccer coach, they might be, but for the rest of us, they are chain link fences, metal light poles with bright lights and flat grassy fields. Great for soccer, and perhaps weekend sandlot football games, but not good for much else. And certainly not something you would want to see next to a historic district. 


As City Councilman Jay Jordan said the other day, "Never in my 30 years have I seen a soccer field attract real estate development." 


Harry, this is a bad idea. 


We''ve been talking about this longer than The W has been talking about a name change, and that has been a long time. 


Now, all of a sudden we seem to have ants in our pants to do something. On Sept. 1, 2 and 3 a Main Street sponsored group of planners will be here to conduct a charrette, a process that helps towns such as ours make wise planning decisions.  


Carthage and Eupora have participated in this same charrette program. Those two towns came up with innovative solutions to make them more livable and attractive to visitors. You can bet neither of them chose to put soccer fields in the middle of town in an area that floods as frequently as does Burns Bottom. 


Harry and Robert, I know you are well-meaning, conscientious public officials, but you''re not city planners. Help is on the way, if we will only wait for it.  


Harry, there''s nothing wrong with slowing down, and there''s nothing wrong with changing your mind. 


We''re talking about something we and our children are going to live with the rest of our lives. If we make the right decision, it will be a source of civic pride. We do something stupid, and it will be an enduring disappointment. 


You said you wanted to make this area like Central Park. That''s a grand idea; only in Central Park when they do play soccer, it''s in grassy meadows. There are no soccer fields per se in Central Park. 


And neither should there be in Burns Bottom. 


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.