Our View: Lowndes supervisors should move with caution on recreation plan




Monday, Lowndes County Recreation Manager Roger Short shared his vision for county recreation with supervisors during a special recreation workshop. 


Short's presentation, something he has been working on for two months, is the biggest step taken by the county since it's decision last year to leave its joint parks/recreation agreement with the city of Columbus. 


The centerpiece of the vision is a multi-sport complex to be built at Penn Taylor Farm, an 89-acre site west of the river. Owners Jimmy Graham and Greg Radar are offering the property to the county for $890,000. 


The idea is both consistent and inconsistent with what the supervisors initially said after the split with the city was announced. Supervisors said they wanted to build a facility west of the river to meet the recreation needs of an under-served population. However, board of supervisors president Harry Sanders has said he is leery of "getting into the tournament business," which is precisely what Short's vision is poised to do. 


At some point, the plans have evolved from a complex designed to meet the specific needs of an area to a regional sports complex. 


The stakes are much higher and we urge the supervisors to move carefully before committing to the idea of a regional sports complex. The supervisors are considering this concept at a time when the city of Columbus plans to make significant upgrades to its multi-use sports complex at Propst Park and the city of Starkville is proceeding with ambition plans to build a regional sports complex at the Cornerstone Park property. 


The idea that the market can sustain three multi-use sports facilities with roughly a 30-mile radius should not be taken for granted. 


Sustaining these types of facilities means reaching beyond the community and actively marketing and recruiting far beyond the area. While cities such as Brandon and Southaven have proven that these kinds of facilities can be a major component of tourism, a reasonable question is market saturation. 


Established facilities elsewhere are not simply going to yield that lucrative business to Starkville, Lowndes County or Columbus. Southaven, for example, devotes the majority of its 2-percent restaurant tax to its sports complex. That's an enormous financial commitment to ensure that it maintains and grows its share of this type of tourism. 


Are our three local governments able or willing to commit those kinds of resources to what will only be a more fiercely competitive market? 


Columbus and Starkville can defend their plans to a far greater degree than Lowndes County because their plans serve the needs of their residents. Lowndes County's plans, by contrast, call for a facility in a sparsely populated area that would almost certainly rely heavily on drawing from well beyond the area. 


There are dozens of questions that need to addressed before rolling the dice with taxpayer money. 


How much money would be needed to build, operate, market and maintain the complex? How many tournaments, events would be needed to make the complex self-sufficient? If it isn't self-sufficient, how many tax dollars would be needed to achieve that? What does market research say? While there are success stories associated with many of these facilities around the country, there are many, many examples where such ambitious projects have failed. What are the risks of that with this facility?  


Those are only a few questions that should be carefully considered before proceeding to the most important question of all: Is this a wise use of taxpayers dollars?



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