All of us can rattle off things that have fallen by the wayside due to the pandemic. Between job losses, economic shutdowns and sicknesses, it appears nothing has escaped the coronavirus, including the proposed sportsplex.
City residents overwhelming voted for the 3% tourism tax to be added to restaurants and lodging in a referendum last year. With the release of the sales tax numbers on July 15, May was very profitable to Columbia. The tourism tax amount received based on May sales was $73,568, so the money is coming in. The total in the 11 months the tourism tax has been collected is $725,630, which is trending to definitely beat the initial projections of $750,000.
But between natural disasters and sickness, progress on planning of the actual facility has been slow.
However, let’s face it, the coronavirus is not the only thing holding up the sportsplex. A big issue is location. Some people want it at the Marion County BusinessPlex and others want it elsewhere, namely city-owned property on R.A. Johnson Drive.
Making the BusinessPlex work is going to require the Marion County Board of Supervisors, which owns part of the property that was formerly the Columbian Training School, and the Columbia Board of Aldermen to have productive communications. Sometimes collaboration between the two entities has been an issue, for example, at Columbia Animal Control and Rescue Center, owned by the county and operated by the city. The center was damaged in October, and the main area inside the building still hasn’t been repaired yet.
County Board President Tony Morgan said this week no one has contacted the supervisors in at least three to four months about it. He said City Alderman Wendell Hammond asked if anyone has come to them and Morgan told Hammond no and that was it.
Mayor Justin McKenzie said with the natural disasters and the coronavirus it had been temporarily put on the back burner, but he has had discussions with Alderman-at-large Edward Hough and believe it is time to move forward. McKenzie said he was supposed to meet with Beat 1 Supervisor Eugene “Blue” Green at the BusinessPlex Thursday or Friday to discuss the sportsplex.
I think the idea of a sports complex is spot-on and needed. Now is the time to get the planning going and moving forward with the project. Hough seemed to have a good meeting with supervisors at the beginning of this year when the new board took office, and hopefully the meeting between McKenzie and Green will help get the ball rolling again.
My personal opinion about the location is the two current prospective areas would both work. I believe with proper landscaping and measures, R.A. Johnson Drive can be done. One would be amazed how much noise reduction landscaping can help, with the additional benefit of making the area right in town look more remote. The BusinessPlex also has a great location to offer.
I will go even deeper and say if the boards are willing to work as a team and not as opponents, not only could the sportsplex work at the BusinessPlex, but it could set the precedent of really making Marion County excel. While the main thoughts have been for baseball and softball, we know football and soccer are important as well. Everyone in Columbia and Marion County will benefit from having such a complex.
But the question still remains of where? If at the BusinessPlex, what will it take to make the two governing entities work together for the greater good of everyone? Communication is the first step.
Susan Amundson is managing editor of The Columbian-Progress. She may be reached at (601) 736-2611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.