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Natchez REC-PLEX not a slam dunk

Tate Hobdy knows the wheels of finance often turn slowly for projects like a large, multi-use recreational complex.

But that is not squashing his hope that ground will be broken on one in Natchez by the end of next summer.

Hobdy, chairman of the Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission, is spearheading a planning and fundraising effort to construct a new recreation complex on 37 acres adjacent to Natchez High School, and to update several existing facilities.

Last week, the Adams County Board of Supervisors agreed to set aside $11,000 to defray some of the planning expenses.

Hobdy said the city has agreed to do the same, although the exact amount of money is still up in the air. Overall cost for the complex, Hobdy said, is $5.5 million.

“We’re still waiting to see (how much the city is going to kick in),” Hobdy said last week. “There’s the possibility we may get a grant. But we’re kind of in the hurry-up-and-wait mode for that.”

Last fall, Adams County held a non-binding referendum to gauge the electorate’s interest in a recreation complex. Seventy-eight percent of the votes cast were in favor of it. That’s one of the factors fueling Hobdy’s optimism that a ground-breaking for the complex can be held as soon as this time next year.

“That is pretty aggressive. Is it realistic? I hope so,” he said.

Before that, the Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission has to hire a landscape architect to do prep work on the site next to the high school. Hobdy said the site was “board flat. It’s already been cleared. The site prep work should be pretty minimal.”

Once that’s done, the Recreation Commission will take the plans to the local governmental boards, and hope they approve them. Then several rounds of public forums will be held.

“Once we get past that, we will start to secure financing and take it out to bid,” Hobdy said. “I would like to think that’s going to happen the end of next summer, but we will see.”

Hobdy and other Recreation Commission members have taken a look at the books of similarly sized complexes across the state to gauge the economic impact one could have on the Natchez area.

A weekend-long baseball tournament in Clinton and Tupelo, Hobdy said, pumped $1 million into those cities, Hobdy said.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Hobdy said. “You can go to any other city and see that not only is it good for the community, it’s good for quality of life. It brings in sales tax revenue when you get to the point you’re hosting tournaments.

“When business prospects are looking to relocate to a city, the things they look at are quality of life, education, transportation, healthcare, those types of things. Recreation definitely falls in to the quality of life category. If we wait another 10 years, we’re going to be so far behind the curve, we’ll spend forever catching up. You can go look at any other city the size of Natchez, and they have phenomenal recreation programs. They’re making money off of them.”

One of those cities is Laurel, which sits a straight shot on U.S. 84 east of Natchez. Laurel hosted the 2009 Dixie Youth World Series, an event city officials said had a total economic impact of $3.5 million.

“Due to the success of Laurel Sportsplex, and us getting the (Dixie Youth) World Series and other tournaments, we are always looking at enhancing and expanding our facilities,” said Mitch Stennett, president of the Jones County Economic Development Authority.”

“It makes sense,” Hobdy said. “The timing is right. We’ve asked the citizens of Adams County. They’re in favor of it. Where we’re positioned, right across the river from Louisiana, we can pull tournaments in from Louisiana and Mississippi. Geographically, we have advantages other cities don’t have.”

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