- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - The city’s 200-acre tract of land near St. Michael Catholic Church on Fisher Ferry Road where the city once planned a sports complex is on the selling block, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.

A resolution calls for the city to get two appraisals on the property and use the average of the two assessments as the selling price.

Flaggs said he will present the resolution to put the property on the market for 90 days at the city board’s April 7 meeting.

“From what I understand, it can’t be used as a sports complex in the first place,” Flaggs said. “It’s been out there too long, it’s not of any value to the city unless we can do something with it.

“I want to put it out there for the developers to see whether or not it can be utilized, and what would be the highest and best use for the city. It’s a business call. It makes sense to me to find the highest and best use for the property and try to reduce the cost to city.”

“I’ve never felt the property was what we actually needed to build a sports complex, because of location,” said Alderman Michael Mayfield who is in his third term on the board.

One problem, he said was the property’s accessibility.

Access, he said, “is a key factor to have a good start at a complex. If people can’t get to it or can get to it but can’t get out because of traffic, it’s no good.”

A portion of the northern end of the property is also in a flood zone.

Mayfield said he toured the property after he was first elected in 2005, and has visited the property since.

“The more you look at, the more you realize the City of Vicksburg doesn’t have any money jars hidden anywhere, and in actuality, that’s almost what you should have to make it what it needs to be - jars of money.”

Alderman Willis Thompson agrees with the plan to sell the land if the city can find a buyer.

“Basically, it’s sitting there and we can’t use it, we need to see if we can sell it and get some of our money back,” he said. “We need sell it and take the money and see if we can put that money someplace where it can help us. I think we can sell it.”

“Nothing has been done since we left it,” said former alderwoman Gertrude Young, who was on the board in 2003 when the city bought the property for $325,000. “If he (Flaggs) can get the money back that we put into it, it would be great. We’ll have to wait and see. He’s looking out for the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, and that’s a great thing.”

“It’s their prerogative,” former alderman Sid Beauman said of the plan to sell the property. “They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do.”

Beauman, a former city recreation director and two-term alderman who was a strong proponent of turning the acreage into a softball and sports complex from the start, said the board needs to be cautious when it sets a price.

“Before they sell it, they need to look at how much money we’ve put into that property,” he said.

The Fisher Ferry project was abandoned in 2009 after an additional $2.7 million had been spent for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work. A parallel venture into building a sports complex at the site of the current Halls Ferry Park, once a city landfill, was scuttled the year before when the state raised concerns over environmental impact.

“We had a plan and had put aside $1 to $1.2 million for the work, but the money was moved (in fiscal 2010) to the Washington Street bridge (reconstruction) and it was never replenished,” Beauman said.

He said the dirt work at the site had graded a road and prepared sites on the property to begin building ball fields.

“That was what the $1 million was for,” he said. “They should have replenished that money, in my opinion.”

Besides the money to buy and grade the property, the city spent an additional $55,343 in 2012 to replace the concrete in the drainage chutes on the site with riprap and grout under a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality mandate. Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman said recently the city has more work to do on the chutes.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what a developer can do with it,” Flaggs said. “Hopefully, they can use it with some elevation and improvement. I would love to see it become a medium to high scale subdivision with houses anywhere from $200,000 up.

“My vision is if we can develop a housing complex and have a connector road to (U.S. Highway) 61 South and connect it to ERDC (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center), maybe we can begin to retrieve some of those people who are commuting from Jackson and Clinton and other areas in the future.”

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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