FUTURE OF SMITH-WILLS STADIUM UNCERTAINBy ANTHONY WARREN,
the future of Smith-Wills Stadium is still up in the air, with Jackson city officials still undecided how to move forward with the property.
Last year, the city brought on Tim Bennett, owner of the Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball team, to do an assessment of the stadium and determine what needed to be done to make it viable for tournaments and events.
The city is still working with Bennett, who is providing his services free of charge.
Jackson officials have also entertained a number of proposals from firms wanting to manage the site to developers who want to build new facilities there, said Jackson Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine.
“We haven’t come to any conclusion yet. We have entertained a number of proposals. We want to use that area for the biggest economic and societal gain,” he said.
Blaine said the stadium is a major priority for the administration but has been overshadowed in recent months as the city grappled with a major water crisis and is still dealing with addressing its water billing system issues.
Last week, Blaine said 15,000 of the city’s 65,000 or so water customers were still not receiving regular or accurate water bills.
“While it (the stadium) is a priority, there are bigger priorities right now,” he said. “that doesn’t mean we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, (it’s just that) there are some larger things we’ve prioritized.”
Last fall, Bennett spoke to the city council about the possibilities for Smith-Wills.
“There are three options: tear it down, leave it as it is and let it continue to age, or see what we can do to bring it back.”
At the time, the administration was working out a new management agreement with Bennett and his firm, Overtime Sports, to oversee the facility.
The stadium is currently managed by the Mississippi Baseball Club, which oversees the facility on a month-to-month basis.
Smith Wills opened in 1975 and was home to the Jackson Mets, a minor league farm team for the New York Mets.
After the Mets left in 1990, it became home to the Jackson Generals, followed by the Jackson Diamond Kats and the Jackson Senators.
Since then, the stadium has been used primarily for youth sports and city activities and is the home stadium for the Belhaven Blazers baseball team.
Bennett told the council that the facility could have a bright future, pointing to the field’s artificial turf, as well as its location on Lakeland Drive.
However, Bennett said the facility needs a number of upgrades.
“ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) certification is one,” he said. “The stadium was built in 1975 and ADA standards have changed.”
Also, the stadium has to be updated to accommodate scorekeepers, press personnel and announcers. He said new lighting would also be needed, to improve the chances of attracting larger college tournaments and national media coverage.