Birney Imes: Of ballparks and buffalo


Birney Imes



According to Roger Short, the jury''s still out on the site selection for the proposed sportsplex. Someone called earlier in the week to say word on the street is that the decision has been made, that it will be Burns Bottom. 


Friday afternoon I called Roger to ask him about it. "Not that I know of," he said.  


Earlier this month the Parks and Rec board recommended their three top choices out of 11 under consideration: 54 acres of Burns Bottom, a 156-acre parcel owned by the Army Corps of Engineers adjacent to the Riverwalk and 50 acres owned by Jimmy Graham about 1.5 miles west of the river. 


Short said a feasibility study of the three sites underway by Neel Schaffer should be ready in as many weeks. He said his board will not make a recommendation, rather they will defer to the City Council and Board of Supervisors. 


"My board took the approach if we say we like "C" and the board likes "B," then it''s going to be "B," he said. 


Yea maybe, but this is the business of Parks and Rec; it is and will be their responsibility. They should review the feasibility study and go on record with a recommendation. Where the city and county go from there is another matter. 


In our conversation Short mentioned a couple of intriguing sites that have come up since the call for proposals including an area owned by Frank Leigh on Bluecutt behind The Boat Gallery building. 


Short said he loved the "visibility aspect" of the three sites under consideration though he admitted that, with the exception of New Albany, he knew of no other sports complex visible from major thoroughfares. 


After talking with Short, Dispatch Managing Editor Steve Mullen and I took a ride to look at the three sites. I think more than anything I wanted to inure myself to the idea of having Burns Bottom transformed into a sports complex. 


The Corps land is an impractical choice. There''s no way to get there without building a road. Extending Plymouth Road so it goes under the river bridge would be an engineering feat. The other option mentioned, building a road in the winding strip between the Riverwalk and the Highway 82, would degrade what is a lovely nature walk. A road ups the cost anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million. Either way, you would end up with a two-lane road as the only access by land.  


The 50-acre Grayco site is a beautiful open field in plain view of Highway 82. The access via the Macon/Meridian exit is excellent. The land looks high enough and wouldn''t require clearing. Both Burns Bottom and the Corps land are densely forested and both would likely need extensive fill. Saturday morning much of the Burns Bottom site was flooded and a roadway over Moore''s Creek was virtually destroyed by the deluge of a few weeks ago. Water from the Saturday morning rains should finish the job. Some of Burns Bottom is swamp land. 


The value given for the 31 lots that comprise the Burns Bottom site is $462,840, the appraised value. It''s unrealistic to think the land will sell for that. 


Friday afternoon Curtis Crawley''s head was under the hood of a pickup parked in his cluttered yard. Crawley lives on Coretta Street amid a handful of houses a stone''s toss from the Main Street connector exit to 82 East. Presently that settlement is separated from the highway by a purple veil of wisteria. His home, along with four or five others in that corner, would be taken for the complex.  


For 31 years, Crawley and his wife have lived on Coretta Street in a house built over a cement block garage. Crusty and outspoken, Crawley doesn''t sugarcoat his opinions. He is not happy about the prospects of moving. 


"We have been here forever. I thought I''d die here," he said. "Tell ''em you think this is the best place in the world not to build it. 


"It''ll take a lot of building up" he said. "Take it down the road somewhere and put it where buses can get to it." 




Talked turned to buffalo 


After awhile, talk turned to buffalo. 


Years back, on walks in the neighborhood, I''d wondered about the bison grazing in a fenced in lot next to his house. 


Crawley said he paid $2,200 for three buffalo after a Tupelo heart doctor told him to eat only buffalo and deer meat. Only one problem: "I did not like that meat," said Crawley. "They don''t have T-bones or Porterhouses on their back." 


Crawley still has a freezer full of buffalo meat. He''s given a lot of it away. When asked how recipients respond to his largess, he said, "They never comment." 


Eventually Crawley''s buffalo dwindled to one bull, which he compared to an oversized German shepherd. 


"See that gate there," he said pointing to a sturdy chain-link fence. "If you left that gate open, he''d lie there all day. Close it and he''d tear up the gate." 


The idea of a stray buffalo wandering the neighborhood was not appealing to Crawley. "If he got to the bypass, I might have to buy a car I couldn''t drive," he said." 


Crawley took the animal to the sale barn in West Point where his 600-pound buffalo bull sold at auction for $64. "They really raped me on that," he said. 


As for the sportsplex ending up in his neighborhood, Crawley is resigned to what he thinks is the inevitable. 


"People say it''s not going to be in Burns Bottom. I say for every $50 you got, I got a $100 that says it is. 


"If they pay me enough it''ll make me feel better, but I won''t be happy." 


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]


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


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