Look for Starkville Parks and Recreation officials, once under direct oversight by city aldermen, to aggressively market itself as a sports tournament host in an effort to impact its own revenues and overall sales tax receipts.
Three members of the group and the board’s liaison, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, agreed Wednesday that focusing the department’s efforts and transitioning between a facilitator that rents out fields to an organization that plays a lead role as a host competing for state tournaments could have a major impact on local finances.
“(Hosting) a tournament every other week throughout the season could generate a substantial amount of revenue for the city, and that’s probably a more-obtainable, short-term goal than (recruiting large-scale industrial development),” Walker said. “We have a lot more control of that happening than an industry coming. I would argue that, and I will argue that at the board table.”
Only three of the group’s seven members — former Alderman Sumner Davis, Jeffery Jefferson and former Parks Director Matthew Rye — were in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting after the group was forced to abandon its May 9 discussion since the city failed to properly notice it according to the Open Meetings Act.
The trio, with Walker adding suggestions, proposed a new internal structure for the department, one that would ask its department head to focus on finances and employee accountability while a new foreman position would oversee turf management, landscaping and routine maintenance.
The proposal also calls for SPR to utilize two sports program managers to oversee youth and adult sports, and activities manager for other programs. On paper, Parks has two sports program manager spots, staff said, but one position was left unfilled for multiple years.
Communication between management-level staff is imperative if Parks is to overcome infrastructure issues keeping the organization from being competitive in the world of tournament attraction, advisory board members said,
Moving back to an organization hosting, not simply facilitating, tournaments would also force the department into better managing its infrastructure instead of only providing contractually obligated services.
Having a department head focused on budgetary and marketing matters, hiring a proven maintenance guru, aggressively competing for tournaments and solving internal communication issues could put Parks at a level where it could even generate enough revenue to hire a tournament manager that specifically recruits events, the group said.
“If you’re going to get a bigger fee, you have to deliver the product in the end. Right now, we’re not at that point. It’s not hearsay — there are people … that don’t want to come here. They’ll flat out tell you, ‘I’m never coming back here again,'” Walker said of the issues plaguing SPR. “We have too good of a potential market for (improvements) not to happen. We have to find funding, but we also have to have (a strong internal structure) in place to make it a viable option.”
In their last meeting, advisory board members outlined positive and negative characteristics of the park system. They agreed the department has shortcomings with internal and external communication, employee accountability, fiscal responsibility and work schedule flexibility, while it also suffers from a lack of planning, vision, leadership and networking.
The positives, board members said, include strong participation in nonsporting activities, the department’s ability to utilize 2 percent food and beverage tax receipts for capital improvements, expertise from Mississippi State University, physical space and potential county revenue streams.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch