JACKSON — Some things just get better with age. Such is the case with River Hills Club in Northeast Jackson. Founded in 1963, the clubhouse and other areas of the club are starting to show its age. But instead of aging gracefully, the dated clubhouse will be torn down once the new clubhouse is built.
“The new 23,000-square-foot clubhouse will be a gracious Southern Louisiana style of architecture,” said club manager Barney Chadwick. “The architects for the new clubhouse are NCG in Atlanta. They specialize in clubs. The new clubhouse will have a very traditional feel, in the style of Hays Town. What we’re trying to achieve is a casual, yet elegant atmosphere. We want it to feel like a large home, because a club should feel like a home away from home.”
The existing clubhouse is approximately 15,000 square feet, and is situated very close to Ridgewood Road. It will be demolished when the new clubhouse is complete. “The new clubhouse will allow for more of a sense of ‘arrival’ off of Ridgewood, with a larger entrance and lush landscaping.”
While many memories and emotions are wrapped up in the old clubhouse, River Hills Building Committee chairman Tom Johnson said, “We had a decision to make. Some people wanted to renovate, but in order to do that, we would have had to close the clubhouse. By building a new clubhouse, we are able to keep the existing clubhouse open until the new one is complete.”
It’s a plan that was two years in the making. Chadwick explained that the membership not only approved the plan, but voted to add 100 additional stock members.
River Hills isn’t like most private clubs, explained Chadwick. “We don’t have a golf course, yet we have the social element that most golf clubs have. Our focus here is primarily on tennis.” Chadwick said the club is a family club with full-service dining and banquet facilities, as well as an Olympic-sized pool.
The club features 28 tennis courts. However, the new clubhouse is being built on six of the existing courts. “As part of our renovation, we will be replacing all of the old clay courts with new state-of-the-art courts that feature underground water systems,” explained Chadwick. “Clay has to be watered, and the new courts will have pipes underneath to keep the courts damp. We took a trip to the Boca Raton area where 10 of the top clubs in the country are located within a 20-mile radius. We modeled our new courts after some of those.”
River Hills is already considered one of the top tennis clubs in the nation. The club hosts many high-profile tennis tournaments each year. Among the tournaments hosted by the club are the $25,000 Women’s Professional Challenger, part of the women’s pro circuit and the USTA National Men’s Intersectional Tournament, which is a team competition with a Davis Cup-type format tournament for age divisions 35 to 65. “That’s considered the toughest of national championships in terms of the number of nationally-ranked players who come here,” Chadwick said. The club also hosts the River Hills Junior Invitational, as well as the River Hills Cup. “That’s one of the most fun tournaments we do here. It’s Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss and they play in our indoor center. The purpose of that tournament is two-fold: to raise money for the tennis programs at the schools while showcasing the excellent tennis programs they have. It is the only NCAA Division I tennis event in Jackson.”
Chadwick said that the tournaments draw people nationally and internationally to the area. “The economic impact on the City of Jackson and surrounding areas is substantial in terms of rented hotel rooms, money spent in restaurants, service stations, shopping centers and much more.”
Construction was originally slated to begin on the club in 2005. “Unfortunately, bids were due in the week after Katrina. Once the hurricane hit, construction costs went through the ceiling, so we had to regroup.” Since a good bit of the project was infrastructure in nature, Jackson City Councilman Ben Allen encouraged the board members of the club look into TIF financing for a portion of the project. “Approximately $800,000 to $900,000 of the $11 million investment falls under items that qualify for TIF financing,” said Chadwick.
TIF (tax increment financing) is a tool to use future gains in taxes to finance the current improvements that will create those gains. “The renovation of River Hills will result in property tax increases,” Chadwick explained. “The increased site value and investment creates more taxable property, which increases tax revenues. Typically, both the city and a percentage of the county’s portion of the additional taxes will be used to reimburse the bond. After the bond is retired, the city will get 100% of the taxes.”
“The entire City Council has embraced this project,” Chadwick said. “They are excited that our membership has made the decision to remain in Jackson. The Council recognizes that this is something the city can be proud of, and that it’s a good selling point for any prospects who may be considering moving to the South. When we’re finished, River Hills will be one of the premier clubs in the country.”