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Natchez rec group hopes to secure land soon

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams County Recreation Complex could soon have a home.

Natchez-Adams County Recreation Committee Chairman Tate Hobdy said the group is close to securing the land adjacent to Natchez High School for the recreation complex, and the committee is hoping to see ground break on the project in fall 2011.

The National Parks Service currently owns the land. After revealing some loose plans for the recreational complex to the NPS, Hobdy said he is confident that the service will grant them a renewable lease on the land. The lease would last for at least 25 years at no cost to the city. Hobdy said he hopes to have the 39 usable acres secured by next month.

Indian burial grounds restrict building on some portions of the land, but the locations of those areas prevent it from posing an obstacle for the complex’s construction, Hobdy said. He said that although no permanent structures, like buildings, can be built on top of the artifacts, non-permanent construction, like hiking trails, are permitted.

Hobdy said he is aware of one farmer who harvests hay on the land. He is not sure how the complex’s plan will affect that farmer, but he has not heard any complaints.

In addition to the land by Natchez High, Hobdy said committee members are looking into sprucing up Duncan Park and Liberty Park, as well. But the plot of land by the high school is ideal for the complex.

“(The land is) centrally located, board flat, easy to get to, access is easy … and the high school could have access to it,” Hobdy said.

Locating the site next to the high school is something that NHS Principal Cleveland Moore Jr. said would benefit all of Adams County.

“If we can get that land, it would give all of the citizens of Natchez and Adams County a central location to access the facilities,” said Moore, who is also a committee member.

The committee has also been interviewing landscape architecture firms that focus on planning parks, and wrapped up its final interview Friday.

On Friday, the committee interviewed Holcombe Norton Partners, Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., and Weatherford-McDade, Ltd. of Jackson.

They also interviewed firms from Centerville and Lawrenceville, Ga., in April and May, respectively.

The committee is planning to decide which firm to use in the coming weeks and then make their recommendation to the Adams County Board of Supervisors, Natchez Board of Aldermen and Natchez-Adams County School Board — the groups that will have to make any final decisions regarding the complex.

“Once we have an architect in place, we are going to take ideas that we have and run them through the architect,” Hobdy said. “They can help steer us a lot in what is feasible and what isn’t.

“We have to make sure to get it done right the first time because there won’t be a second chance to build it.”

Hobdy said the committee also wanted to make sure that the complex had room to expand, should the need ever arise.

“If there are things we can’t afford now that we want, we are going to make sure we build so we can expand the complex to include it,” Hobdy said.

Once the project is complete, Hobdy said Natchez would be able to host tournaments.

“Tournaments will impact economics because it brings a lot of people in,” Hobdy said. “Having the parks will also influence people who are considering moving here that Natchez has something for their children to do.”

Moore said the committee will come to the end of the planning stages during the next month and will soon be asking for public input.

“If we maintain our current schedule, we should be looking at giving the taxpayers some more opportunities to provide feedback soon,” Moore said.

Hobdy said the committee will be having public forums and is considering a public survey, if the budget allows.

He said public forums would take place after the land is secured, a landscape architect is selected and plans are clearly drawn up.

No money will be spent on hiring anyone, however, until the land is secured.

“We will get public input because we don’t want to build anything that people won’t use,” he said.

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he has been impressed so far with the committee.

“I think they are coming along really good,” Lazarus said. “They are a good group of individuals who know how to make things happen.

“They are open-minded and willing to listen. They are all working for the same thing and that is helping the community.

“I sat in on their first meeting and have stayed out of it since then. I want them to do the research and show us what we can afford.

“You got people in there who have been successful in business, so they are frugal with money. They are not going to do off-the-wall stuff that may make the project fail. They are going to do it right.”

Lazarus said doing the project right will take time, so he wants the public to be patient with the process.

“This is something you do one time, and you do it well,” Lazarus said. “We won’t build a recreation center for another 50 to 100 years.”

The recreation committee was formed in February in response to a county-wide vote overwhelmingly in support of pursuing a complex.

The city, county and school district will also have to approve funding plans.

Hobdy said he has high hopes that the city, county and school district will grant approval, especially since the committee is comprised of three representatives from each group.

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