August 4, 2009 10:36:00 AM
Neal Wagner -
Lowndes County officials during the next few weeks will move closer to securing land for the proposed soccer complex project in Columbus'' Burns Bottom area, amid unanswered questions of how the project would be funded.
The developments came during a Monday morning Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, as Columbus-Lowndes Development Link Chief Executive Officer Joe Higgins updated the board on the project''s status.
"The green areas represent landowners we have met with, and who have agreed to go to the next level," Higgins told the board as he referenced a map of the Burns Bottom area near Columbus'' Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market on Second Street North.
The Board of Supervisors in June authorized Higgins and Link official Charleigh Ford to seek property options from 31 landowners in the Burns Bottom area.
City and county officials are considering the more than 70-acre Burns Bottom plot for a six-field complex to house the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority''s soccer and football programs.
In addition to the Burns Bottom land, officials also are considering a a 156-acre tract of land near the Columbus Riverwalk and a 50-acre plot near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit.
Although Higgins and Ford received verbal agreements from nearly 20 Burns Bottom landowners, the pair still must meet with the remaining "dozen or so" landowners during the next few weeks, Higgins said.
"If they said they were ready to go to the next level, I told them we would go ahead and appraise their property and prep the property options," Higgins said. "We want the county to make an offer on their property based on the appraisal. We are in the process of appraising the properties right now.
"The thing I want to stress is that everyone in green was receptive to having their property appraised and selling it to us, but no dollar figures have been thrown out yet," Higgins added. "There''s no guarantee that the green will stay green."
Of the 31 property owners in the area, one so far has refused to sell property to the county, according to Higgins. The less than 1-acre property lies near the intersection of Second Street and Second Avenue North.
"That red block on the map is the only property owner that said he didn''t want to sell," Higgins said. "That property owner also owns three other properties throughout Burns Bottom that he said he would be willing to sell.
"He just said he thinks that property will have better value for him on down the road," Higgins added.
Officials also are attempting to determine the owner of a multi-acre, wedge-shaped tract of land near the intersection of Moore''s Creek and Main Street.
The property may belong to the Mississippi Department of Transportation or the Army Corps of Engineers, Higgins explained.
Because the Link officials still must meet with several property owners, Higgins likely will give his final presentation on the land during the board''s Sept. 15 meeting, he said.
Although city and county officials have not yet decided on the soccer facility''s location, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks requested the board begin discussing funding options for the project.
"I think there needs to be more discussion on how we are going to pay for this. If we were to purchase the property tomorrow, how would we pay for it?" Brooks said. "I don''t want to get everyone all hyped up until we have a plan in place to fund this."
Because the property cost may be split between the city and the county, District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders suggested the city pay its portion with in-kind utility services and property donations.
Columbus is one of the 31 Burns Bottom landowners, and holds more than 7 acres of the property, according to the Link map.
"Through property and infrastructure donations, the city could pretty much balance out the county''s price on this property," Sanders said.
"If the city''s part is only land and utilities, who''s going to pay for the rest of the project?" responded District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson.
"I didn''t say the city would be done with their part after that," Sanders laughed.
Because city and county officials must decide where to construct the soccer complex and how to fund the project, Higgins said he will ask the Burns Bottom property owners to sign a 12-month property option.
"That should give us some time to get some of these questions answered," Higgins said.