Park service optimistic about complex

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2000

A new sports complex in Natchez could still be years away.

Natchez city officials want to build a $16 million recreation facility — with baseball, softball and soccer fields and a water park — on a bean field next to Natchez High School. The National Park Service owns the land but has agreed to lease a large portion of the 125 acres to the city for 50 years.

But Wendell Simpson, superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, said a final agreement on the property could be a year away. &uot;We’re just waiting right now to see how everything works out,&uot; he said. &uot;We intend to lease it to the city, but it’s probably a year down the road. Nothing is formalized yet.&uot;

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The park service wants to build a historic interpretation center on the site, which was an Indian settlement during the French occupation of the area.

&uot;That’s something we would like to do if funding is available,&uot; Simpson said. &uot;What (Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown&uot;) presented us sounded like a project compatible with that land.&uot;

But finding funding for the project — without borrowing money or raising taxes — could prove difficult.

&uot;It’s extremely hard to fund a recreation project with state and federal funds. State and federal governments have never established recreation for youth as a priority, whether they be disadvantages, low to moderate income or rural youth,&uot; said James Johnston, who as community development coordinator for the city is charged with finding grants. &uot;It will be difficult but not an impossible task.&uot;

But there could be some help on the horizon. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has introduced a bill to divert federal revenues from oil and gas production to outdoor conservation and recreation needs. The bill would affect coastal states and communities impacted by energy development activities.

Also, the National League of Cities has made recreation funding a priority in its legislative agenda. The NLC&160;has said recreation facilities can be used as economic development tools.

The project would almost certainly be paid for with money from several sources, Brown said. He said the top priority once construction gets under way are the softball and baseball fields.

Brown said one money-saving advantage to the project is the partnership the city will be making with the National Park Service. The city will likely be able to rent the land for a nominal yearly fee.

&uot;These partnerships are particularly valuable for those of us in a small community with limited sources of income,&uot; Brown said.