Plans to transform Parham Bridges Park into a world-class tennis center are finally coming to fruition.
Last week, the Jackson City Council approved a motion to tear down the old Precinct Four substation to make way for a new entrance to the Parham Bridges Tennis Center.
The council also approved bringing on Hemphill Construction to build the entrance once the demolition is completed.
The entrance will be located at 4940 Old Canton Rd., at the site of the old substation, and will run behind the tennis center. The substation has been closed for years and was in “a state of disrepair because of substantial fire, water and mold damage,” according to city documents.
The current entrance, located between Green Oak and the tennis center, will be shut off to traffic. However, the parking located in front of the tennis center will not be affected.
Demolition work was expected to be done by city crews, and slated to get under way immediately pending council approval.
Hemphill was expected to begin 30 days after the contracts were signed off on by the mayor and legal department.
The project is expected to cost around $98,400, and is being funded with donations from the LeFleur East Foundation and Parham Bridges Jr. Hemphill was chosen through the blind bid process.
It was not known how long the demolition or new construction would take.
Tennis Center Manager Terry Overcash is pleased with the council’s vote, and looks forward to seeing work get under way.
The new entrance is the first of a number of improvements planned for the park. The next phase will include building four new tennis courts at the center.
“We’re trying to build four more (courts) between us and Green Oak (Florists) and we can’t do that until they move the entrance,” he said. “We have to put the horse before the cart on this one.”
Relocating the entrance will serve several purposes.
First, it will open up space for the tennis center’s expansion.
Tennis officials want to add an additional four courts, which will help Parham Bridges attract larger tournaments.
Right now, the center has 14 courts, a large number when the center opened more than 40 years ago, but few compared to the mega-tennis complexes of today.
Also, the new entrance is expected to improve traffic flow to and from the center and increase parking, according to LeFleur East Foundation treasurer Mike Malouf Jr.
“It’s very difficult getting in and out,” Malouf said. “We’re creating a nicer, bigger entrance” Malouf said.
Seeing the first phase could also spur more Northsiders to donate to the improvement efforts.
The tennis center expansions, as well as other improvements, such as new lighting around the walking track, likely would have to be funded by private dollars.
Jackson doesn’t have the money to make the improvements, and for years has faced a deficit in its parks and recreation budget.
In fiscal year 2016, for example, the city projected raising $564,000 in admissions, fees and rentals, but only collected $203,000, according to financial documents found on the city’s Web site.
Jackson budgeted $504,000 for parks for its 2017 budget, but failed to meet that projection as well.
“Seeing the work being done maybe will make it easier for the tennis community to raise money,” Overcash said.
LeFleur East is now working to draw up a master plan for park-wide upgrades, and is working to establish a “Friends of Parham Bridges Park” group to raise money, Malouf said.
The group would work much like other friends groups would, and focus solely on raising money for upgrades to the tennis center and adjoining park.
“We’re trying to get people on board with that now,” Malouf said.
The expansion is needed to help Jackson compete with other cities to bring in more regional tennis tournaments.
When it opened, Parham Bridges was one of the top public facilities in the nation. However, it hasn’t kept up with how tennis has changed. Forty years ago larger events were statewide tournaments, Overcash told the Sun previously.
Today, tennis events are regional, with hundreds to thousands of visitors from multiple states coming to play and watch.
These regional competitions have a major economic impact on local economies, with athletes and their families spending nights at hotels, and buying food and gas.
Jackson must compete for those tournaments with cities like Mobile and Nashville, which have tennis complexes with 50 and 25 courts respectively.
For more information on the Friends of Parham Bridges, log onto the lefleureast.org, and click on the contact link.
The park is located at the corner of Old Canton and Ridgewood Road, and includes a one-mile walking trail and adjoining playground.
The vote for the demolition was unanimous. The council approved bringing on Hemphill on a 6-1 vote. Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes was the lone dissenter.