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It’s child’s play

Building youth sports facilities can mean lots of tourism dollars for communities

The Delta Sportsplex Foundation has the desire to build a recreational complex in Greenville. It even has a 95-acre plot of land Washington County has agreed to lease to it for that purpose.

Now all it needs is the money to build it.

Efforts toward securing the money started Sept. 22 at a reception in Greenville.

“It’s just getting started,” said Britt Virden, vice president of the Delta Sportsplex Foundation.

The fundraising will start local. Virden said last week that the Foundation has presentation ready and meetings scheduled with some potential seed-level sponsors.

The Foundation hopes to raise $20 million that would go toward the construction of a multi-use recreational complex, and to its operation and maintenance. Virden wouldn’t put a timetable on the fundraising stage, other than to say “we’re ready now. We’ve waited too long.”

Citing a lack of political will, and the possibility that such a financing mechanism could delay the project for years, Virden said the county issuing bonds to pay for the complex was not an option.

What remains on the table, he said, is the institution of a tax on hotel lodging within the county whose revenue would pick up some of the tab.

But that would only be necessary if local and corporate sponsorships come up short.

“We’re looking at corporate sponsorships, such as naming a field for a business,” Virden said. “We’re also looking for various foundations to match some funds. The first phase would be to get the local support and sponsorships before we go the corporate route and to various foundations, or start talking seriously about a tax. If we have to change funding strategies, we will, but that’s the plan right now.”

A Technical drawing show the proposed Greenville Sports Complex  which would be about 95 acres large and feature multi-use fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football.

A Technical drawing show the proposed Greenville Sports Complex which would be about 95 acres large and feature multi-use fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football.

For example, under the terms of the Foundation’s proposed sponsorship agreement Virden provided to the Mississippi Business Journal, a corporation would have the complex named after it for a $500,000 commitment over 10 years. Installments of $12,500 would be paid quarterly. A business could have a baseball field named after it for a $50,000 commitment over five years, with quarterly payments of $2,500.

The Delta Economic Development Center is assisting the Foundation with the capital campaign.

“Our retail and service industries will have captive audiences when parents and grandparents visit our community to watch their young ones play some ball,” DEDC chairwoman Kim Dowdy said in a press release. “It is never too early to be ready for company.”

Virden said his group estimates the complex would have an annual economic impact on Washington County of $500,000.

That figure is derived from the Foundation’s getting a peak at the books of similarly sized complexes in Oxford, Southaven, Ridgeland and Madison.

“Several of them were willing to share their revenue numbers with us,” Virden said. “Based on the size facility we’re looking at, and the number of tournaments, we think ($500,000) is the minimum number.”

The proposed 95-acre site is owned by Washington County and sits adjacent to the Washington County Convention Center and near the old Greenville airport.

“There’s an existing park there called Legion Field. It’s a baseball field, which is what we use now. We’ll go to the side and around that complex and the Convention Center,” Virden said. “It’s all multi-use. Fields can be used for baseball and softball tournaments. Soccer fields can double as football fields. There will be a walking track and a playstation for kids. Then you’ll have concessions (stands) and administrative buildings.”

Recreational complexes across Mississippi are run by the city or county in which they reside, with their executive directors and their staff being city or county employees. The arrangement in Greenville will be structured differently.

Washington County will be involved only to the extent that it will receive land lease payments from the Foundation, and will organize the various sports leagues that will play at the complex. The actual operation and maintenance of the complex will be left up to the Foundation. Virden said the arrangement will be the first of its kind in the State of Mississippi.

“We’ve heard of some out of state, as far as sports complexes,” he said. “But the one we’re modeling this after is the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. A nonprofit entity maintains, organizes and built that facility. It’s the same idea, just with a sports complex.”

Several years ago, Columbus was where Greenville is now. Since the late 1990s, local soccer enthusiasts have clamored for a complex that would support large-scale soccer tournaments. This time next year, that will become a reality.

In about two weeks, the city will seek bids to build a 70-acre soccer park that will feature a waterfall and a walking trail.

Roger Short, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, said the projected cost of the park is $3.3 million, paid by a bond issue. Construction is scheduled to begin in Jan. 2011.

“We’d like to be able to open up the season in Sept. 2011,” Short said. “A lot of people look at it from the standpoint of it being a great economic impact tool. Of course, I agree with that, and that was part of the sales pitch. But more than anything, our children need it. It will serve dual purposes.”

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