City exploring options for new sports complex

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar last week presented “very early” conceptual drawings for a proposed sports complex city leaders hope to build in coming years.

Prepared by Sloan Landscape Architectural of Oxford, the drawings gave aldermen an idea about how such a project would look at one of the sites being considered for a sports complex large enough to attract traveling baseball and softball teams for major tournaments as well as provide a modern tennis facility that would also hold invitational events.

Azar said the architectural firm used the property behind Lowe’s on Hwy. 6E for their drawings after they visited the site with city officials about a month ago. That piece of property, Azar told the board, has been offered to the city at what he described as “a very reasonable price” although he reserved further details for executive session.

Another possible location discussed by aldermen in the past month would be near the north Batesville exit or somewhere around the I-55 and Hwy. 35N area.

Azar said the location can be determined later, but wanted to give aldermen drawings to begin the process. Also not discussed in length is how the city intends to pay for the ambitious project, which will likely come with a $18-20 million price tag.

In the drawings presented last week, the property behind Lowe’s would have four small ball fields, four large fields, and eight tennis courts built in a separate area adjacent to the fields. Both the ball fields and the tennis courts would have designated parking areas and restroom and concession facilities. There are also plans for a disc golf course and walking trails at the site.

More room for additional fields is also available on the drawings.

At Trussell Park, which currently has three ball fields and six tennis courts, the architects proposed to create a soccer complex with fields of varying size, including two large ones that could be used for flag football leagues.

Trussell Park’s existing infrastructure, including lights, restroom, and concession areas would be utilized in the new design should the park be converted to a soccer complex. An addition to the current walking trail would also be considered.

“I know this is very early, but I wanted to give the board something to see and think about,” Azar said.

In other Partnership business, 

  • Azar asked the city board to adopt a resolution recognizing October as Hindu Heritage month at the request of the Vaghela families, local hotel owners who have supported many projects in Batesville in the past 30 years. “We have these wonderful community leaders from India that have moved here and become great Christian Americans and have done really well,” he said. “They love Batesville and have been wonderful community partners over the years.”
  • Aldermen agreed to pledge $9,000 for the city’s share of a study that would be the first steps in determining the economic viability of an ambitious project first pitched to the city board two months ago by developer Kenny Farrel for the property on the southwest corner of I-55 and Hwy. 6 behind Wal Mart, Panola Medical, and the Batesville Civic Center. Panola County, Panola Partnership, the developer, and the land owners would also each put up $9,000 contingent on receiving a grant from the Economic Development Administration (part of the Dept. of Commerce) to pool with the city for the local part of the grant that would fund the study. The proposed study would determine whether Batesville would be an economic fit for development of the sort proposed.
  • The Mayor and Aldermen presented a letter of support, as requested by the Partnership, to Rail USA for the return of The Polar Express to Batesville. “We aren’t asking for the Train to Christmas Town, this is a reputable individual who has invested millions of dollars in railroads that wants to bring The Polar Express back to our city,” Azar said. When The Polar Express was operational in Batesville, some 65,000 passengers a year were riders. The 2019 event, a secondary market event not affiliated with The Polar Express, was a public relations disaster for the city when the train derailed, future rides cancelled, and passengers left with no way to be refunded their expensive ticket prices. The city did not manage the event and had no control of the decisions made by Train to Christmas Town owners. Besides The Polar Express, Azar said the person interested in making the investment hopes to offer year round train excursions for dinner parties and other occasions. The investor needs the permission of the railroad owners – Rail USA – to proceed.