Musselwhite parks improvements

Mayor Darren Musselwhite asked the board to approve a list of park improvements.

Southaven Board of Alderman approved a plan to spend $14 million over the next four years to enhance the city’s parks using money that will be collected from the Pennies for Parks tourism tax.

The board gave Mayor Darren Musselwhite the go ahead to work off a list of ranked projects which includes trails and pavilions in neighborhood parks, new roofs and Main/Quad D maintenance at Snowden Grove, parking expansion at the Arena to accommodate the growing volleyball program, LED lighting at Snowden Grove, the addition of eight tennis courts at the Snowden Grove Tennis Complex, the conversion of four tennis courts into pickleball courts, the installation of black vinyl fencing at Snowden Grove and Greenbrook parks, and resurfacing the parking lot at Snowden and Greenbrook.

The list was a slightly revised version of one discussed by the board at its May 17 meeting based on the feedback Musselwhite received. The new roofs were moved up from 2026 to 2022 as was the parking expansion at the Arena. The pickleball court conversion was moved up from 2024 to 2023 and the parking lot resurfacing at Snowden and Greenbrook was moved up from 2026 to 2024.

With the additions and reshuffling of the top priorities, splash parks at Snowden Grove and Greenbrook and dog parks at Snowden and Central Park were moved to the city’s long-term plan and 2027.

“In the past, I think our board has done a tremendous job of listening to the recommendations of the people that are involved in  the day-to-day operations, which is your parks director and your mayor,” Musselwhite said. “It’s not that we don’t like the other projects. I wish we had $42 million extra dollars so we could do them all.” 

Musselwhite said the first three items - neighborhood parks, the roofs at Snowden Grove, and the parking lot expansion at the Arena are the most urgent.

“I think we are all  in agreement that that we want to invest in neighborhood parks,” Musselwhite said. “This tourism money would be invested in trails and pavilions.”

Musselwhite said Snowden Grove Park is the main revenue generating park in the city, but is 22 years old and has some maintenance issues that need to be addressed.

“Snowden Grove Park is a gem,” Musselwhite said. “It is a huge asset to our city, but it does have to have some maintenance. The roofs are fading and leaking. We have rotten wood in the main pavilion.”

Musselwhite characterized expanding the parking for volleyball as an emergency.

“Now on Saturday our volleyball program has exploded, so much so that we have so many more teams participate that come to the tournaments that parking is an absolute nightmare,” Musselwhite said.

Musselwhite told the board that he would like to take a bank loan out to fix those items right away and pay for the rest as the money comes in. The city took a similar approach in 2018 when they got a loan for the $6 million soccer expansion.

“We would not bring anything before you without a funding mechanism,” Musselwhite said. “So if the funds do not come in like that, then we would pump the brakes and start the projects that we have the funding.”

Musselwhite asked the board for feedback and to approve the list so the administration can start the preparation work.

“I’m asking for discussion tonight to give us direction on the things in the top box,” Musselwhite said.

Ward 3 Alderman William Jerome said he would like to see the city move the splash pads and dog parks back up like they were when the list was first presented to the board to look at.

“That was in the top of most of them,” Jerome said.

Musselwhite told Jerome that the city could possibly pay for those using operational funds because they were low cost items at $600,000 each, but said the revised list reflects higher priority items.

“I’m dealing with a limited amount of money,” Musselwhite said. “If you put those up there, what do you take off?”

Jerome said he would bump the parking lot resurfacing down to the bottom of the list.

“I’m okay with the black vinyl fencing,” Jerome said. “But originally when we talked about this we were going to focus on neighborhood parks.”

Musselwhite pointed out that they plan to spend nearly $3.2 million on neighborhood parks.

Jerome said he feels the list is heavily skewed to improvements at Snowden Grove.

“When you look at the top of that list, how many of those mention Snowden Grove?” Jerome said.

Musselwhite then got into a back-and-forth exchange with Jerome questioning his reasoning why he has a problem with spending money at Snowden Grove Park.

“Everything is not going to Snowden, but there are some things that have to be done at Snowden,” Musselwhite said. “I’m not going to make excuses investing money in Snowden Grove park. It’s costly to do the maintenance and those things have to be done. You don’t view those as a problem?”

“Not a priority over some other things,” Jerome responded. “You asked. I’m just telling you. It wasn’t a question. It was an opinion.”

Musselwhite implied that Jerome was suggesting there is favoritism  shown to Snowden Grove and called the notion “ridiculous.”

“I don’t mean any disrespect, but that argument is so old and it is not fact based,” Musselwhite said. “It is ridiculous. It’s actually stupid. It is.”

“I’m just as proud of it (Snowden Grove) as anybody else,” Jerome shot back. “That’s why I didn’t disagree with the roofs. I don’t disagree with the LED lighting. I don’t disagree with the outdoor tennis courts.”

Musselwhite said Snowden Grove Park generates over 60 percent of the city’s park revenue and subsidizes all other parks.

“So why would there not be a large investment at Snowden Grove Park?” Musselwhite said. “It would be foolish not to.”

“Because we said this time around when we got pennies for parks we said we would focus more on neighborhood parks,” Jerome said.

“Which we are,” Musselwhite answered.

Ward 2 Alderman Charlie Hoots said the board is over-thinking the matter.

“I don’t want to see us get into a fight,” Hoots said.

“We’re not fighting,” Musselwhite said. “We’re talking about it. This is a big decision.”

Musselwhite said all he is asking for is direction on which projects to move forward on and that it isn’t possible to accommodate everyone’s wish list.

“If you put Thanksgiving dinner out and everyone is going to raid the turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce, everybody is going to have different preferences,” Musselwhite said. “But as a group, we have never had a problem  of having a general plan of saying maybe that’s not my top priority, but I get the value. I’m with you on that.” 

Musselwhite said the board will still have a chance to discuss and approve each project when they are ready to bid out. He said the board has always acted decisively in the past, even if they didn’t agree on everything.

“From a day-to-day standpoint, what I am telling you is the parks director and your mayor need to have an idea of what the board is going to approve,” Musselwhite said. “If not, then you talk about slowing it down to a snail’s pace. If we bring every project in one at a time, we won’t get these done in four years.”

Ward 6 Alderman Raymond Flores said he agrees with the projects on the list.

“I’m good with the top part for the next four years,” Flores said. “Absolutely.”

Musselwhite said he gets phone calls every week and pictures sent  to him by text about the parking lots at Snowden and Greenbrook and the overflow at the Arena. He added that every week a light goes out at Snowden Grove and needs to be replaced and that it doesn’t make financial sense to spent $1,000 each time to replace a light.

“How do I go to somebody and say hey, I want to build this, but I know I have major maintenance issues with a money-making park, the most highly used park in the city by far, and we’re not fixing those?” Musselwhite said. “It just doesn’t make any business sense.”

Musselwhite urged the board to vote for the projects as listed.

“We don’t just pull something like this out of our back pocket,” Musselwhite said. “These are data-driven decisions where we have listened to our citizens. We’ve seen it first-hand. That’s why we prioritize them this way.”

The motion to approve the list was passed 7-0.

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