Starkville considers private partnership for Cornerstone operation

 

A rendering shows the proposed Cornerstone Park on Highway 25. Starkville is planning to build the park as a tournament ready facility in west Starkville.

A rendering shows the proposed Cornerstone Park on Highway 25. Starkville is planning to build the park as a tournament ready facility in west Starkville. Photo by: Courtesy image

 

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk talks about projected budgeting for improvements to the city's park system and to fund the proposed Cornerstone Park tournament facility on Highway 25 during a special-call meeting on Tuesday, with Mayor Lynn Spruill listening. Aldermen held the meeting to discuss the future of the parks after the Senate approved HB 1565.

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk talks about projected budgeting for improvements to the city's park system and to fund the proposed Cornerstone Park tournament facility on Highway 25 during a special-call meeting on Tuesday, with Mayor Lynn Spruill listening. Aldermen held the meeting to discuss the future of the parks after the Senate approved HB 1565.
Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff

 

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker talks about Cornerstone Park during Tuesday's special-call meeting. Aldermen discussed possibly using an outside agency to manage Cornerstone Park.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker talks about Cornerstone Park during Tuesday's special-call meeting. Aldermen discussed possibly using an outside agency to manage Cornerstone Park.
Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff

 

George Flaggs Jr.

George Flaggs Jr.

 

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

As the bill for a new 1-percent sales tax in Starkville heads to Gov. Phil Bryant, the city is looking to Vicksburg as an example of how it might handle the operation of a new sports complex the tax is meant to fund at Cornerstone Park. 

 

Mississippi's Senate approved House Bill 1565 this week on a 51-1 vote. With Bryant's signature expected imminently, aldermen met on Tuesday to discuss the future of the city's parks system. 

 

During the discussion, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker pointed to Vicksburg's Sports Force Park, which the city has considered as a model for what to do with Cornerstone Park -- particularly in partnering with a private agency for the park's operation. 

 

The city is looking to build a tournament-ready recreation facility at Cornerstone Park on Highway 25. HB 1565 would allow the city to add 1 percent to its existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel/motel tax for the maintenance of its park system and construction of the new park. 

 

Cost estimates for the park range from $18 million to $22 million. The additional 1 percent tax, combined with the 40 percent share parks and recreation receives from the 2 percent tax on the books, would generate about $2 million next fiscal year. 

 

Even if the governor signs the bill, it comes with a direct referendum -- meaning it will require at least 60 percent voter approval on a citywide ballot initiative to be enacted. 

 

 

 

Sports Force Park 

 

Vicksburg partnered with the company Sports Force Parks, which also manages a facility in Sandusky, Ohio, to build and operate its $23 million baseball and soccer park. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the park has been operational since mid-February, with a grand opening scheduled for April 16. 

 

So far, he said, the park has been a smashing success. 

 

"It's been full every weekend since mid-February," Flaggs said. "In fact, it is having us to pick up and do a whole lot of renovations on our own everyday use park because everyone wants to play there. It's doing really good. I think they've even exceeded their own expectations. 

 

"Cisco, which is the company that provides food services for our restaurants said they've seen a 30 percent increase in food sales," he added. "I'm more than pleased with it." 

 

 

 

Costs comparisons 

 

During Tuesday's meeting, Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said the management costs in Vicksburg's contract are $225,000 for the first year; $200,000 for years two and three; $225,000 for year four; and drop to zero for the fifth year and after as the company begins to rely on operational revenue from the park.  

 

While that might not be the exact costs associated with Cornerstone Park, it offers an idea of what potential contract costs might look like for Starkville.  

 

Should the city partner with a private company, it would only be for Cornerstone Park -- the city's parks and recreation department staff would continue to oversee the rest of the parks system, including the Sportsplex on Lynn Lane. 

 

City officials said if the city chooses to manage the park itself, it could end up paying more annually than what a third-party contract would cost just through beefing up the parks staff. 

 

"They (Sports Force Park) have eight to 10 on staff, full-time," Spruill said. "In the summer, it was like 80 to 100 part-time as the tournaments were there. So it's a jobs creator, for one, and its a permanent jobs creator for eight to 10 folks on a regular basis." 

 

Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins told The Dispatch he's open to considering an agreement with a private company. However, he said he'd like to see more analysis and information, as he's not familiar with the topic. 

 

"My whole thing is let's, as a governing body, adopt what's best for the city of Starkville," Perkins said. "If it is proven that an independent group can come in and manage the parks, that would be good. We want all of our parks to be the best, but we want this great investment to be one of the best in the country." 

 

 

 

A public process 

 

Walker said the city could look to put out a request for proposals once Bryant signs HB 1565 to get an idea of what companies might be willing to work with the city and what they could offer. 

 

"Having a group that, that is what they do, gives me some more confidence and takes some of the burden off us, or whoever is going to be sitting in our chairs, from saying it's up to us to go make this happen," Walker said. "If the citizens vote, and however we choose to go, I'll be fervent in saying we have to have a professional group in some capacity that is in charge of operations and management of the facility." 

 

Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Gerry Logan said he's had experience working in systems that partner with private organizations. He believes it could work well for what Starkville is considering. 

 

"You really can't go wrong," he said. "Either you pay the cost yourself or you let someone else pay the cost. I think there was a lot of good discussion about the different types of management models and ultimately, what I took away is that's going to be a very open and public process. Any number of organizations will be able to bid through this through an RFP process, so ultimately that means anybody can and the best company will come out of that."

 

 

 

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