By a vote of 6-1, the City of Southaven convening in a special meeting Monday, approved a lease agreement with DeSoto Legacy Volleyball, LLC of Olive Branch to bring competitive volleyball to Mississippi's third-largest city.
Citing the need to expand opportunities for youth recreational activities and spur additional city revenue, alderman OK'd the deal after a back-and-forth volley of sorts with another longtime tenant, the Southaven Flea market, which has been operating in the arena for the past 10 years.
Voting for the two-year lease agreement, which begins Jan. 1, 2018 and ends May 31, 2020, were Alderman at large William Brooks, Ward 2 Alderman Ronnie Hale, Ward 3 Alderman George Payne, Ward 4 Alderman Joel Gallagher, Ward 5 Alderman John David Wheeler, and Ward 6 Alderman Raymond Flores. Ward 1 Alderman Kristian Kelly, whose ward is comprised largely of flea market supporters, voted against the agreement.
After May 31, 2018, the City of Southaven has the right to terminate the agreement but must issue a 120-day notice to the lessee.
What remains to be seen is the exact arrangement and scheduling that would allow for volleyball activities and the continuation of the flea market, which features everything from gun collections to coins and antiques along with civic and community booths for various community organizations.
During volleyball tournaments, the volleyball organization would have priority under the lease agreement over all other tenants.
It is quite possible that following the "leveling" of the arena floor that the flea market and other venues could enjoy the flexibility to continue unabated.
However, the leveling of the arena floor could take months or within year-time frame to complete. The volleyball season begins this coming January.
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite decried the fact that the opportunity to have a new recreational venue like arena volleyball has been pitted against the flea market, which also enjoys its share of fans and supporters.
Musselwhite openly complained about the fact that misconceptions about the situation have taken on a "monstrous" life of their own.
"I certainly have nothing against a flea market," Musselwhite said. "I think volleyball does more for the revitalization of the area. When you bring activity back to the business district, you spur activity."
Musselwhite said the city can ill afford to turn down opportunities which help to revitalize the older part of the city.
"One of the most challenging things for any city is urban decay," Musselwhite said. "It's something that happens to every city. Within the last five years, we're just now seeing that in Southaven because it is a young city."
Musselwhite and other aldermen in support of the volleyball lease agreement argue that by having arena volleyball tournaments in the Southaven Arena, it will spur economic development through the construction of new restaurants and shops. They pointed to the gradual but substantial commercial redevelopment that has occurred around Snowden Grove.
Under terms of the lease agreement, DeSoto Legacy will 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, DeSoto Legacy will operate the city’s recreational leagues. DeSoto Legacy will also bring tournaments to the Arena. They keep the entry fees as part of the agreement. DeSoto Legacy will have to pay the officials. 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.
"In May of 2018, if things are not going the way we want, we can get out of the contract," observed Payne. "I'm excited about bringing in more people and having tournaments on the weekend. I just think about increased business and restaurants that need to go in there (area)."
Musselwhite said the research into the volleyball opportunity was more than two years in the making.
"A lot of thought went into this," Musselwhite said. "A lot of deliberation. We didn't just pull this out of our hip pocket," Musselwhite said, adding the city attorney Nick Manley had thoroughly vetted and examined the agreement.
Part of the problem with the flea market continuing in the Arena before the floor is leveled (it previously served as a horse arena) is the weight of vehicles on the soon-to-be-installed volleyball floor. That new floor, which costs $110,000, is expected to be installed the first week of November.
"When you bring vehicles on the floor, that floor can't stand all the weight," Musselwhite said. "Maybe within one year, the city could level the floor. If it's a square rather than an oval, we would eliminate the problem. You can't change the fact that the weight of the vehicles would damage the floor."
Ward 2 Alderman Ronnie Hale said his mind had changed and his position evolved after studying the situation.
"The Arena is the most underutilized building we've got," Hale said. "Bringing volleyball to the Arena should be viewed as a win-win for the city. This is a public-private venture that will save the city a lot of money. One thing that made me change my mind is that we might not have but a few businesses on that end of town, but places like Domino's and West End Bistro is not going to complain about extra foot traffic. This will bring so many opportunities to the West Side."
Musselwhite said the opportunity for the volleyball program was eclipsed somehow by support for the flea market and the two are not pitted against each other.
"The goal was never to pit the flea market against volleyball," Musselwhite said. "The goal was to expand, to diversify, to offer more opportunities for our youth. Next year, if we can level the floor, it will give us more flexibility. It may just be that all this 'fun' we've had over the last week has been for naught. We have to make decisions based on not good versus bad but good versus better."
Ward 6 Alderman Raymond Flores said he was surprised by all the controversy.
"Our parks deaprtment is the envy of the state and much of the South," Flores said. "It's additional revenue and additional opportunities for our youth. This is a no-brainer and I'm done."
However, Ward 1 Alderman Kristian Kelly had questions about the lease agreement, which he voted against. Furthermore, Kelly said the flea market is part of the identity of residents living in his ward.
"For my people, it's who they are," Kelly said. "I'm shocked and amazed this issue has been so huge. I've heard more on this issue than any other in my term of office. Especially for the elderly in our area, it's more difficult to travel outside the area to venues like this. None of them (residents) are against volleyball but they are concerned about their event."
Musselwhite lauded Kelly for listening to the concerns of residents in his ward.
"Well said on your part," Musselwhite said to Kelly. "But ultimately, the entire board has to make a decision as to what is in the best interest of the city."
Wally Harris of Holly Springs, brother-in-law to the owner and operator of the flea market, spoke out in behalf of the flea market.
"Vehicular traffic is a negotiable item," Harris said of heavy trucks which could possibly damage the new volleyball floor. Help me understand why it's a good idea to run the Southaven Flea market out of the Arena building to get about the same rent for 20 or or more days per month instead of three," Harris said. "We bring in several hundred vendors per month — many from out of town — they stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and buy gas locally. They help to create a venue that the citizens of Southaven look forward to. They bring merchandise that is not available anywhere else, which incidentally generates sales tax. We often provide free space for civic and religious organizations so they can promote their special events. We have been a steady tenant for about 10 or more years. We try to be a good tenant and return the building to Southaven, clean inside and out. If we could come to a compromise that would allow us three days use at the building per month. You would still have 27 days to do with it as you wish and another $60,000 per year income."
"The flea market has been a good tenant," Musselwhite said. "If there were no vehicles, that might be a positive thing. In year one, before the floor is leveled, there could be some flexibility. Obviously, the flea market brings some positive things to our city."
In other matters, the Southaven Board voted to accept a $670,000 bid for the renovation of the former Moose Lodge which will be renovated for a new Southaven Tennis Center Pro Shop, which includes an outdoor patio area.
The bid came in under budget, which had been set at approximately $700,000.
Ambassador Construction was awarded the bid.