Can Natchez turn bean field into sports complex?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 24, 2000

Taking a cue from the hit film &uot;Field of Dreams,&uot; Natchez Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown unveiled his answer to complaints that the City of Natchez has outdated recreational facilities. And the answer, the mayor says, is located squarely in the middle of a bean field. Although the plans have been in the works for months, on Wednesday, Brown publicly discussed his dream of building a $16 million sports complex on about 125 acres of land next to Natchez High School.

The plan calls for construction of baseball, softball and soccer fields, a walking trail and a water park. Saying the plan is ambitious is an understatement, but it’s the kind of vision we need to have if we hope to progress as a community.

The city has almost finalized a deal to rent the land — which is owned by the National Park Service — for a nominal fee, likely $1 per year for the next 50 years. It’s one of those &uot;partnerships&uot; the city has forged with other state and federal agencies that has allowed the city to accomplish projects it couldn’t complete along, such as the construction of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

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So the easiest part — acquiring the land — is complete. Now the difficult part begins. Transforming what’s now a bean field into a state-of-the-art sports complex will not be easy and neither will finding the $16 million.

The city is unlikely to find that money growing on a tree somewhere, no one wants a tax increase and grants for such projects are scarce. Most likely, the project will have to be divided up into smaller, more digestible — and affordable — phases.

Critics will likely say Brown’s announcement is simply an election-year promise and one that will never see the light of day because of lack of funds. Maybe that’s true, but ultimately who cares what his motives are as long as the city eventually reaps the benefits?

We hope the community gets behind the project. And we hope city officials can locate the funds to see the bean field transformed into ball fields.