Jackson lease of Smith-Wills Stadium described as ‘good deal’

The manager of a Biloxi ball park is expected to invest $6 million in Smith-Wills Stadium over the next decade, and he’ll be paying the city of Jackson for the opportunity to do it.

The city council recently approved hiring Kusche Sports Group to manage Smith-Wills Park.

The agreement is for 20 years, with the option to extend the contract for two 10-year periods.

Initially, Jackson will receive 30 percent of all revenues generated at the stadium. Beginning September 30, Kusche will remit to the city 30 percent of all event revenues generated at the stadium.

Starting October 1, 2020, the firm will begin paying the city an annual fee of at least $125,000.

“It’s a really good deal for the city,” said Parks and Recreation Director Ison Harris. “We’re excited about it.”

Contract terms were hammered out over the last six months.

The measure was approved on a unanimous vote, with Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps stepping out of the meeting.

Kusche will take over management of the stadium in the coming weeks and is expected to begin making improvements at the stadium in short order. 

Kusche is owned by Tim Bennett, manager of MGM Park in Biloxi. The park is home to the Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball team, and the Conference USA baseball tournament. The tournament is slated for May 22 to 26.

“We have to get that tournament completed. I’ll take two weeks off to catch my breath and then we’ll (begin) making some of the improvements,” he said.

 

Initial work will include cleaning up the property, cutting back overgrown trees and cleaning mildew and fungus from the facility.

“We’re looking at 45 to 60 days before we get started on really cleaning the place up. Then we’re looking at 90 to 100 days before we see some renovations take place,” he said.

Bennett said upgrades are needed across the facility, from the restrooms and concession areas to the seating bowl and playing field itself.

Meanwhile, Bennett is in talks with college conferences who could potentially relocate their baseball tournaments to the 5,500-seat facility.

“There are two conferences we’re speaking with now that are interested in relocating from their current cities to Smith-Wills in 2021,” he said. “We do have those conversations ongoing.”

Bennett wouldn’t say what conferences he was in talks with. He said negotiations would likely determine what renovations are made at the stadium first.

“We’re talking with both conferences pertaining to the improvements that need to take place for them to come here,” he said. “that’s part of the negotiations.”

 

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 was brought on to do an assessment of the stadium in 2017. 

Late last year, the city issued a request for proposals for stadium management based on Bennett’s assessments. Bids were opened January 8. Only one firm submitted a proposal, Kusche.

 

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