A plan to have a competitive organization run the volleyball program envisioned for the Southaven Arena by the city ran into several questions and was tabled to a special meeting set for Monday, Oct. 23 at 9:30 a.m.
The holdup comes after residents and supporters of the flea markets that are held at the Arena expressed concerns about the future of those events.
A state legislator also appeared at Tuesday’s meeting, questioning the need for fees to run the tournaments and similar events in the building.
Mayor Darren Musselwhite reported to the Board of Aldermen a contract had been drawn up and was ready to be signed for DeSoto Legacy to pay the city $5,500 a month to use four of the seven courts planned to be set down on the arena floor.
“In exchange for those courts, they will operate the city’s recreational leagues,” Musselwhite said. “They will also bring tournaments to the Arena. They keep the entry fees as part of the agreement, they have to pay the officials and the other revenue will be similar to our Snowden operation where the concessions and gate proceeds will go the City of Southaven.”
DeSoto Legacy is a volleyball club that has nine competitive teams for girls from ages 11-16. Bob Lewis is the master coach of the program that includes Southaven High School volleyball coach Robbie Veazey on its staff.
Several concerns were brought up about the contract with DeSoto Legacy, however. At least one alderman, Kristian Kelly, asked for more time to answer some questions he had about the agreement, alluding that he had not had enough time to learn the answers.
“There are a few questions that I personally have that I want to make sure I have the answers,” Kelly said. “This is the one issue that I have heard more from my constituents. What I would like to do is table this for at least a few days to talk about this.”
Kelly wanted to have language in the agreement that would ensure there would be dates available for other events, such as craft shows.
Alderman George Payne said the Arena, originally built as a horse show facility, began hosting more craft shows and flea markets to get more events into it. The volleyball plan is to make the building more of a multi-use center to increase the activities there from the current average of five events a month to a more daily use.
“The whole process of all of this was to generate more traffic and more use out of a building that’s only used 20-30 days out of the year,” Payne said.
Alderman Ronnie Hale also supported the plan, saying it would be good for the city, especially the west side ward he represents.
“We’re going to try to do as much as we can and we need to figure out a way to accommodate as many people as we can,” Hale said. “Our whole purpose is to vote on things we think will be good for the city.”
Hale echoed residents’ complaints about how “everything goes to the east side,” meaning the Getwell-Snowden Grove area of the city. “And now we’re getting something on the west side,” Hale said.
But, a group of residents, represented by Charlie Hoots, were upset that Musselwhite and the city have said that volleyball would be a priority for dates once the program begins, feeling that there won’t be as many flea markets there as there presently is.
Hoots claimed the residents had been misled by the city, a charge Musselwhite denied and pointed to Hoots’ social media activity as a venue for false information.
“I know Carriage Hills and Colonial Hills people who would have filled this place tonight had they known, because they would rather have a flea market there than a volleyball court,” Hoots said, to which Musselwhite responded, “It seems that every time we try to do something good for the west side of the city and bring customers back to the original business district, it is amazing to me that every time I try to change something that would do just that, there’s a group that comes forward and they don’t like that.”
The strongest comments of the night, however, were left for state Rep. Ashley Henley, who said she lives near the Arena.
Henley’s lengthy, and at times rambling statement, questioned why residents would have to pay fees to use the Arena for volleyball.
“When I live in a parking lot for two months in Jackson, I have to use the Jackson Public Library and pay a $25 fee to do so,” Henley said. “Jackson residents don’t have to pay to use their library. With these public use facilities, is there a differential cost depending on if you happen to not live in the city?”
The exchange became heated with Musselwhite calling Henley an “anti-tax, anti-fee radical that most people in Colonial Hills don’t agree with.”
Musselwhite challenged Henley to stay out of city affairs and be more concerned about state issues.
“You need to get this message before you leave tonight,” Musselwhite told Henley. “The people of Southaven need you to go to Jackson and do your job. We have roads falling apart across this state and we have teachers who don’t make enough money. We have people who are mentally sick in jails tonight because the state of Mississippi cannot properly fund health care,” a comment that received supportive applause by the crowded board room listening to the exchange.
After the exchange and Henley being being told to finish her comments and sit down, as a police officer stood next to her, the aldermen did vote to table the issue.
The special meeting date of Monday, Oct. 23 at 9:30 a.m. was announced in a news release Wednesday afternoon.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.