Mayors: Recreation brings cash

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 1999

Recreation facilities not only increase a community’s quality of life, they increase a city’s coffers, four Mississippi mayors said Thursday.

The problem is finding the money for facilities, the mayors said at a seminar at the Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association annual conference at the Ramada Inn Hilltop.

In Jackson, Mayor Harvey Johnson is working with schools to use their facilities during the summer, so the city doesn’t have to spend money building more recreation facilities.

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For Mayor Susan Vincent of Laurel, it took asking for an extra penny sales tax twice to get enough funds for softball, baseball and soccer fields and an indoor swimming complex.

Laurel has now spent $8 million in two years on recreation, Vincent said. Getting support for the extra sales tax meant convincing residents it would improve their quality of life, she said.

&uot;Quality of life is one of the most important things people look at when they choose a community,&uot; she said.

Natchez Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown pointed out that the money Laurel has spent on upgrading recreation facilities will be paid back in economic development.

&uot;Recreation activities bring families, not just participants,&uot; Brown said. &uot;Parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents come to watch someone for 30 seconds in the pool in a relay and they stay 30 days.&uot;

To illustrate his point, Brown had a wheelbarrow full of $3.5 million in play money – the amount he said sports events like the state tennis tournament have generated in Natchez in the last four years.

Because few federal grants for recreation exist, Brown said the National League of Cities will ask Congress this year to recognize recreation as economic development. The recognition would open the door to more federal dollars for recreation facilities, he said.

&uot;If we can convince the federal government that recreation is economic development, then Susan Vincent can build a $4 million natatorium to host indoor swim meets in the winter in the deep South,&uot; Brown said.

Mayor Gene McGee of Ridgeland also spoke at the mayors’ forum. The recreation conference has had record attendance this week, with 240 people registered for the conference in Natchez, said Natchez Recreation Director Ralph Tedder.