Recreation project on the move

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2001

NATCHEZ – City, county and school officials met Thursday to discuss the proposed St. Catherine Creek Recreation Complex – including what it could include and how recreation will be governed in the future.

For one thing, local officials associated with the recreation project determined that they want to travel by bus to tour Laurel’s recreation facilities as soon as possible.

&uot;What they have in Laurel is the closest thing to what we want to do,&uot; said City Attorney Walter Brown.

Email newsletter signup

That city’s 145-acre complex includes six soccer fields, four baseball fields, two softball fields, eight tennis courts and a natatorium. That complex cost a total of $7,545,000 to build, according to figures compiled by city Recreation Director Ralph Tedder.

But Natchez is looking at using recreation proceeds not just for construction at the beanfield, but improvements at such sites as Duncan Park and Liberty Park as well, Brown said.

As it now stands, a cloverleaf interchange would be built close to Liberty Park as part of the Natchez Trace extension project, but it probably will not go through the ballpark itself, Brown said.

&uot;Liberty Park is going to remain a ballfield,&uot; he said.

What features will be included in Natchez’s recreational proposal will be decided by a countywide recreation council.

That group will be composed of representatives from the Natchez Board of Aldermen, the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez-Adams County School Board.

The council’s decision will be made with input from public hearings as well as from consultants who will determine what features will fit on available land and how much the project will cost.

&uot;You’ve got to have that in order to put (a funding proposal for the complex) before the voters,&uot; said Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith.

There are catches, however. The Park Service will not allow major excavation – such as digging that may be needed to install a swimming pool – on the 37-acre site now under consideration, city officials said.

That is because Park Service officials consider a 25-year lease a short-term agreement and do not want to have to repair major damage to the site when the lease expires, Brown said.

&uot;I think a natatorium is going to be in (our recreational proposal) somewhere. The question is the location,&uot; Smith said. A natatorium alone could cost $2.5 million to $3 million to construct but could be used all year, Brown said.

Tedder pointed out that, depending on what facilities are placed on the beanfield site, digging would be needed for water and sewer lines, drainage, irrigation and other infrastructure.

For example, the most likely facilities on the site, ballfields, would require irrigation, and restrooms would have to be installed at the site, Tedder said.

But Brown said the Park Service would not have a problem with such infrastructure work.

Another catch is that local officials do not yet know when or if the whole 101-acre beanfield site will be available for development.

The City of Natchez paid more than $39,000 for the National Park Service to conduct an archeological study of the whole 101-acre beanfield site to determine which land could be used for the complex.

But the Park Service only surveyed 47 acres of the site, seven acres of which was determined to be unusable due to its archaeological significance and three acres of which is privately owned.

And city officials said Thursday they do not know why the whole site was not surveyed.

&uot;I don’t think any of us know why that wasn’t done,&uot; said Alderman Jake Middleton, the Board of Aldermen’s Recreation Committee chairman. &uot;I think they (Park Service archaeologists) need to come back and survey the whole site.&uot;

Brown said that as a result, the project will probably be split into two phases – phase one, including the 37 acres already surveyed and approved for use, and phase two, which would include the rest of the 101-acre site.

The Park Service is almost ready to lease the 37 acres to the city for use for the recreation complex for 25 years with an option to extend the lease for another 25 years, Smith said.

When local officials travel to Washington in February, they will also discuss with the Park Service leasing the rest of the 101-acre site from the agency, Brown said.

&uot;We’ve already been given congressional authority to lease it,&uot; Smith said.

Whatever features are finally included in the recreation proposal, voters would be asked to approve additional property tax millage to pay off bonds issued to fund the project.

That amount will be determined by the project’s estimated cost.

Hopefully, the issue will go on the November ballot, city officials have said.

Also, those taking part in Thursday’s meeting said that the Board of Aldermen, the Board of Supervisors, and the School Board will be asked to approve an interlocal recreation agreement in January.

Under that agreement, the city, county and school district would jointly fund and operate a recreation program for the entire county.

The council would hold its first meeting 30 days after each board names three representatives to serve on the council and the agreement is given final approval by the Attorney General’s Office.

About 90 days from then, the council would submit a plan spelling out the recreational facilities and programs the boards hope to develop.

Once the council has made a recreation plan and the three boards have approved it, officials will get cost estimates for the facilities and programs.

If approved by voters, construction could begin as soon as December 2002.

The recreation programs and facilities would then be run by a joint countywide recreation council with members appointed by the Board of Aldermen, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.

&uot;Even if voters vote down (the recreation funding proposal), this agreement will still allow us to operate a permanent recreation council,&uot; Brown said.