Hernando officials met for a second round of hearings on Monday to discuss potential park improvements to Renasant Park and what they could afford using “Pennies for Parks” money from a one cent sales tax.
Architects from Kimley Horn took the feedback they received two weeks ago and came back with four options to consider that would scale back on the number of ballfields, but add more amenities that will appeal to more people and keep the cost to around $12 million.
The initial plan included adding two new quadplex baseball and softball fields along with additional basketball courts, tennis courts, pickle ball courts, disc golf, and improvements to Milton Kuykendall Park, but carried a price tag of $37 million, which is more than the city can afford based on revenue projections from the tax.
Landscape architect Henry Minor said they presented aldermen with 9 items and asked them to rank their top 4 amenities that would appeal to all citizens and not just those who use the ballfields.
“They’re not the end all be all, but it is meant to start the conversation,” Minor said. “The goal was how much you can fit in with $12 million.”
Minor told the board that they can build a lot of amenities for $12 million.
“You can really get a lot done with a $12 million package,” Minor said. “As we go through these, there are more and more options of what you can include and don’t include.”
“Alternative A” would include building four softball and baseball fields, a central concession stand and restrooms, three basketball courts with parking and lighting, and improvements to the playing field at Kuykendall Park. The ballfields would be accessed by Robertson Gin Road.
“Alternative B” would also include both quadplexes, but would save money by taking out some lighting and building a road into the park from Hwy 51.
“Alternative C” would reduce the number of ballfields to six and also include the access road to Hwy. 51.
“What that allowed us to do was to not only make a substantial improvement to baseball and softball, but also allows us to get the two tennis pods with six tennis courts and the pavilion,” Minor said. “It also allows us to get the three basketball courts and off site it allows us to do the improvements to Milton Kuykendall Park. When you sacrifice some fields up front, it opens up a lot of opportunities beyond that of what you can add.”
“Alternative D” would eliminate one baseball quad, but would include a play area, basketball courts, tennis courts, pickle ball and disc golf.
“Obviously there is a big baseball/softball sacrifice there,” Minor said. “When we are talking about having a good faith showing of meeting the needs of all the different people in the community and different interests that might be represented, this seems to tick the most boxes.”
Ward 5 Alderman Beth Rone Ross agreed.
“This kind of hits it all,” Ross said. “I think “D” gives something to everyone.”
Ross pointed out that even with the reduction in the number of ball fields, the city will still have the nine existing fields that can be used.
Ward 2 Alderman Andew Miller asked if the city could hold off on installing some of the lighting and add it back at a later time.
“Everyone can’t drive a Jaguar,” Miller said. “You’re giving us the Jaguar price.”
Minor said the cost estimates are very conservative and that lighting overall is very expensive. He added that lighting is very important for hosting tournaments though.
“The lighting is really important because that dictates so many other things,” Minor said. “You have to have the lighting at certain levels in order to be able to host certain tournaments. It's one of those things that you don’t want to cut corners on.”
An informal poll indicated that the board favored a blending of Alterative “C” and “D” without the lighting for tennis and basketball, but everyone agreed that the road connecting to Hwy. 51 through the park to Robertson Gin Road needs to be built and included in the cost.
Mayor Chip Johnson said the plan offers something for every citizen to enjoy.
“We’re touching everyone in town with this,” Johnson said. “If we are asking everyone to vote on this we are going to have to look at everyone’s needs. I think this plan does that.”
Johnson told the board that he would like to schedule the referendum vote for Nov. 1. He was advised by the election commission that the election can not be held the same day as the general election.
“I’m afraid if we do it after the congressional election, people will have lost steam and won’t want to vote,” Johnson said. “I think the key is to get as many people out to vote as we can so we can hear the will of the people.”
“That makes sense,” said Ward 1 Alderman Natalie Lynch. “I agree.”
Minor told the board that he will bring back a revised plan that blends the amenities included in Alternatives “C” and “D” along with a cost breakdown of each amenity.