Middleton says complex not in immediate plans

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 6, 2008

­­NATCHEZ — Those hoping for a new Natchez sports complex may have to wait longer than they’d like.

That’s not to say Natchez won’t be getting one, but Mayor Jake Middleton said the idea of building a complex is a bit “premature.”

“I want to build one, we all do,” Middleton said. “It’s something that’s just going to take a lot of time.

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“We’ve got a lot of work. We’ve got to put our heads together. The city and the county need to decide if that’s something we want to do.”

Middleton said while he wants to build a complex, the money just isn’t there right now.

“I don’t want the public to think that Jake has money for a recreation complex, because I don’t.”

He hopes with the arrival of two new casinos in Natchez, the city’s revenues will increase enough to allow a sports complex to be built.

One point Natchez Director of Recreation Ralph Tedder, Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus and Middleton agree on is that local hotels, restaurants and casinos should be involved if a sports complex is to be built.

Benefiting businesses should help provide the seed money for a complex since they’re ultimately the ones directly profiting.

“My idea was always that the hotels and (casino) boats should put money into (a complex) because recreation brings crowds,” Lazarus said. “A complex is beneficial. I think the hotels and new casinos should be involved.”

Tedder agrees.

“Once you build a complex, restaurants and hotels want to build,” he said. “If you build it they will come. I think it’s a matter of the willpower to take the investment risk.”

Another possible funding idea of Middleton’s involves getting the community to be involved in the fundraising.

In a hypothetical example Middleton said, “For the next 10 years, what if we asked (Natchez city and Adams County residents) to pay $40 a year for a sports complex?”

Both Lazarus and Middleton agree it would be hard to justify raising taxes to build a complex.

“I don’t know that the city or the county would be willing to put its name on a note for $50 million,” Lazarus said. “The only way to fund it would be to raise taxes. As a citizen, I wouldn’t vote for that.

“I don’t think the public would go along with an increase in taxes. We’re doing good enough staying above water with the way gas prices are.”

In order for a complex to be built, it’s imperative the city and county work together, officials said.

“The city cannot do it by itself,” Middleton said. “We won’t do it by ourselves. It’s got to be a city and county deal.

“If the county is ready to step up to the plate and have one city/county recreation board we can do it.”

Middleton’s long-term goal would be to put baseball fields, soccer fields and walking trails in one area, and keep Duncan park as Natchez’ golf and tennis complex.

One problem Lazarus has seen in previously stalled conversations regarding building a complex is that people are dreaming too big in the beginning.

“This can all be done in phases. It doesn’t need to be done at one time,” Lazarus said. “That’s always been the problem with a complex. We need to figure out what we can afford.

“It’s always been $15 million or nothing.”

Lazarus said building a complex should be like starting a new business.

“You don’t buy the best equipment right off the bat. You buy what you can afford and then improve,” he said. “The real problem is everybody wants things done now — everything done (at one time) instead of in phases.”

Lazarus also pointed out that a complex should have been built instead of the convention center.

“If we would have spent the county money on a recreation complex instead of a convention complex, it’d already be paid off and we’d be making money on it.”

Although no plans are finalized, there are several ideas floating around.

The first step in any plan would be to find and acquire land.

Middleton said he would like to see a complex built on the property Belwood Country Club once inhabited — as long as it’s not being considered for industrial development.

He recognized the country club’s reputation for flooding, but said a levee could possibly be built to take care of the problem.

“If you widen St. Catherine’s Creek where it goes into the river and put a marina there (for boats to stop and gas up), as we widen it, let’s take that dirt and build us a levee around Belwood.”