Lease issue no longer problem for rec complex

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2001

Solving a lease problem has put Natchez a step closer to building a new recreational complex.

A worrisome short-term lease with the National Park Service to allow construction of a recreational facility adjacent to Natchez High School will no longer be an obstacle to the plans, Wendell Simpson said Thursday during a visit to Natchez City Hall.

Simpson, superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, said federal officials have agreed to extend the usual five-year lease of Park Service property to 25 years in the case of acreage known as the beanfield on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive east of the high school.

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&uot;We will sign an agreement to that effect and that will allow the city to go forward,&uot; Simpson said. First, however, an archaeological study at the site will be conducted beginning next week.

&uot;You’ll begin to see activity out there by the first of August, and it should take about three weeks to complete,&uot; Simpson said. &uot;Then the report from the study should take another 30 to 60 days.&uot;

Though not finalized, the lease will likely include an option to renew for another 25 years at the end of the lease. The lease still depends on findings of the archaeological study, but Simpson foresees little chance of a problem, he said. &uot;I don’t think there’s anything there that will stop this development.&uot;

Construction of the complex must comply with certain Park Service rules, including the amount of digging that can be done at the site. Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said those restrictions will not interfere with the kinds of construction planned for the complex.

&uot;We do not plan anything that would require major excavation. There will be fields, roads, parking areas and fences,&uot; Smith said. &uot;We can dig a post hole to have light poles and fences and still be in compliance with the rules.&uot;

Simpson said Park Service officials are concerned not with building up but with building down.

Asked about water and sewer lines, Simpson said, &uot;We’re not at a point we can say any more than ‘light development.’&uot;

A preliminary plan for the complex rang up a $3 million price tag. Some city officials have questioned spending that much money for a recreational site that may not be able to include restrooms and concession stands because of earth removal restrictions. Smith said he thought the only restriction would be that the plan could not include something as invasive as a swimming pool. Simpson said the Park Service is committed to working with the city. &uot;We’ll be finding ways to enhance the development to the extent we possibly can,&uot; he said.

The lease will be for &uot;nominal consideration,&uot; said Walter Brown, city attorney. No money is expected to change hands. The complex, as planned, will take no more than 50 acres of the more than 100 the Park Service owns at the site, which is archaeologically significant as the location of a French-era plantation.

Brown went on to say that he and others will begin working on an interlocal agreement among city, Adams County and Natchez-Adams school board and will begin plans for designing, planning and financing the complex.

&uot;We’ll be doing this while the archaeological work is going on,&uot; he said. &uot;Hopefully, the lease will be approved by the end of the year.&uot;

Sammy Cauthen, chairman of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, is pleased with news about the lease agreement and met with the mayor and Simpson on Thursday.

&uot;I think the 25-year lease with another 25-year option is good news,&uot; he said. &uot;I think it’s an excellent place for a recreational complex.&uot;

Cauthen said he believes the county government is committed to help in the project. &uot;And with our equipment we can do a lot of in-kind contributions,&uot; he said.