Smith-Wills Stadium upkeep increases despite deficit in parks, recreation budget

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson continues to spend $100,000 a year to maintain Smith-Wills Stadium, even with a major deficit in its parks and recreation budget.

However, city officials have no plans to close or sell the facility, in part, due to the state law governing the facility.

Also, the field, which has not been used by a semi-professional team for years, is home to the Belhaven University Blazers baseball team, and used by several youth sports teams.

For fiscal year 2018, the city is planning to spend $107,157 on the stadium, up from $93,205 in 2017 and $121,000 in 2016, Williams said.

At the same time, revenues for parks and recreation have failed to meet city projections. In 2016, Jackson brought in just $203,967 in revenues from admissions, fees and facility rentals, about $361,000 less than that year’s projections. Revenues also were down for fiscal year 2017. Numbers for that year were not readily available.

Williams said the facility doesn’t generate revenue, but has some recreational and economic benefits. “It’s a service we’re providing for the community.” 

Smith-Wills is managed by the Mississippi Baseball Club, which is owned by Northside businessman Con Maloney. The group receives the first $50,000 in revenues collected at the stadium, with anything above that going to the city. The stadium does not generate the $50,000.

Maloney said the stadium is managed by the college, and that he acts as a “go-between” between the city and Belhaven University.

The stadium is the home field for the Blazers baseball team.

“They (Belhaven) keep it up and if anything comes up, we talk (to the city) about it,” he said. “It’s not as utilized as much as I’d like to see it.”

Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester said recreational facilities aren’t designed to make a profit. He doesn’t support selling or closing the facility.

“We can’t make a profit on walking trails or parks, but we need places where people can (walk),” he said. “We thought about things we could do with Smith-Willis, and it would be better to use it than to have it fall into disrepair.”

However, he does believe the stadium could be marketed better. “We need to try find concerts and events to have here, and have a more robust youth presence,” he said. “We have limited use of the land, so we can’t turn away from recreational use.”

 

Smith-Wills is located on Lakeland Drive on city-owned property.

The stadium opened in 1975 and was home to the Jackson Mets, a minor league farm team for the New York Mets. After the Mets left in 1990, it became home to the Jackson Generals, followed by the Jackson Diamond Kats and the Jackson Senators.

“There are some youth football games, and a guy that has offices here and (manages) the facility on site,” said Scott Little, Belhaven’s vice president and director of athletics. “It’s a great historical facility, but there’s not a lot of clamoring for (its) usage.

While the city pays most maintenance costs, Belhaven has done some minor work, including painting the dugouts last year, Scott said.

“It’s good for what it is, but it’s pretty dated.”

The facility is named after Doug Wills and John Smith. Wills, a Murrah High School baseball player, had just completed his medical residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, when he was killed by a drunk driver. Smith, a pitcher for Provine High School, was killed along with his coach on the road to an American Legion baseball tournament. 

The stadium shares a parking lot with the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Agriculture and Forestry.

The three entities are part of the LeFleur Museum District, which is located on approximately 313 acres the city purchased from the state in 1944.

The city paid $50,000 for the property and agreed to use it specifically for recreational purposes.

Provisions of the deed state that if the property is not used for a park, it would revert back to the state.

In 2014, when the city was planning to bring a Costco Wholesale to the site, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told then Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber that he would enforce the tenets of the deed if the city attempted to rezone the site for commercial use.

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