IF YOU BUILD IT

By Jason Methvin/Opinion

In 1989, Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella was inspired. A whisper in the wind told him to plow up the corn crop, put up lights and build a baseball diamond. Naturally, this raised the ire of his long-suffering wife and put at risk his family, the farm and his future. But with the help of his dead father, the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and James Earl Jones, Ray somehow saved the farm and lived happily ever after. As we looked to the horizon, we gazed in wonder at countless headlights streaming towards this monument to the modern age and baseball.

This movie has always left me uneasy. I have too many questions. Are there enough bathrooms? How long are the ghosts going to hang around? Why are the ghosts in Iowa? Who is selling concessions? How much are the tickets? What happens if other farmers build cornfield ballparks? But again, this is a movie.

Flash forward to 2017. The City of Natchitoches is flush with Eighteen million unused taxpayer dollars. It can’t be spent until Natchitoches citizens vote to rededicate the funds for other purposes such as roads, utilities, and waterlines. BORING. Inspired by the baseball building fever of towns like Sulphur, Ruston, Youngsville and Sterlington, the mayor and the council have eureka moment. Let’s build a baseball park with soccer fields, swimming holes and cross-country trails. So, they promise the people that the park will cost nine million dollars, be managed in part by Northwestern and that revenue estimates forthcoming would show that the city would prosper. Trust us, they said. And so, we did.

Twelve million dollars later, the Council has taken a Solomonic deep breath. On Monday, the Council on Monday decided to pull its selective taxation scheme after receiving pushback from its voters. They want to study newly “verified” projections to see if the tax is necessary. They want to study the effect that the use tax will have on material costs for new construction. They want to study the effects the tax will have on single- room, out- of -town, travel ball grandparents staying for a weekend and corporate customers who reserve blocks of rooms for extended periods of time. They want to know if they can give tax dollars to Northwestern and find out if Northwestern is willing and able to sign an intergovernmental agreement to take at least in part some of the burden of managing the ball park.

Yet why am I uneasy? I have too many questions. Why did it take two years and twelve million dollars to get a “verified” revenue projection? Are the revenue estimators the same ones that Sterlington used? Are these estimators the same ones that provided projections for the Convention Center and downtown hotel? When did the Council decide that they would use a TIFF district tax to pay for the park without letting voters have a say? Did we have to spend the money on fun money projects or could we have spent it on much needed equipment for police and firefighters? When did they know that the tax would be necessary to keep the operation solvent? But most importantly, if the mayor and the council would have told us in 2017 that an additional tax would be necessary to sustain the operation of the ballpark, would the voters have approved the rededication in the first place?

I pray that the 1919 White Sox rest in peace. I trust that James Earl Jones has retired. And I’m sure Ray and his wife are safe and sound in sequel land. But this isn’t a movie and they can’t help us. The Council is what we have. Trust them we did. And so, we built it.


20 thoughts on “IF YOU BUILD IT

  1. The ballpark is a waste. The idea of an indoor city pool is a waste. The 500 foot ‘walking circle’ where College Cleaners used to be is a waste. What has Natchitoches spent money on lately that was worth it?

  2. Here is a number for you Jason. Last tournament I went to there were 12 teams in our age bracket and 8 in the other. Of those 20 teams, 2 were local. At bare minimum, there are 9 kids on each team. That makes 18 teams needing hotel rooms at $100 each. So 18 teams times 9 players at $100 a room would be $16200 going to hotel fees. That is if they stayed only one night. If each family only eats 1 meal a day at Burger King for the Saturday and Sunday minimum 2 people that’s $8 a person brings you to $2592. Guaranteed everyone isn’t eating at Burger King. At least half would gas up here. So half of 162 people getting gas at $50 would give you an amount of $4050 at the gas station. That doesn’t include whatever they buy in the store. Oh wait, let’s add in the cost of 1 parent per child getting in both days of the tournament. That is $2520 for spectator entry fee. That comes to a total of$25,362 spent in natchitoches for one weekend and this is the bare minimum. I know you hear “so much money is spent” and you say it is bs. I averaged how much I spent each weekend since January and it averaged around $400 a weekend. Yes I am a middle class person. Yes I travel to watch my kids play a sport they love. It is not about a status quo. It is watching my children learn about teamwork, hardworking, dedication, and how to win or lose. They are making friends, getting dirty, and not sitting in front of a tv screen playing video games. We see different cities, play games on the rides there, and make memories. Everyone is quick to complain. Be real. The roads were never going to be fixed with the money used on the ballpark. At least there will now be a place for kids to play and an opportunity for this city to make money other times during the year besides December.

    • Well you really helped make our case, thanks. I was overly generous saying $5,000 per weekend. It’s half of that, using your numbers. So, IF (a huge IF) the park hosts a tourney all 52 weekends, and using your numbers, it will take the city 92 years just to break even.

      You BE REAL dude!

      The math speaks for itself, and again, thanks for the numbers. Case closed.

      Oh wait! Natchitoches taxpayers are not interested in your weekend excursions. Don’t care.

  3. If you keep letting corrupt people run your town/festival/tourism into the ground, no one will come. Why? Because no one wants to come to a town where basic conveniences cant be met, no one wants to come to festivals that have gotten progressively worse in the last fifteen years, and no one remembers why steel magnolias was important because it was filmed thirty years ago. Natchitoches needs to grow with the times, reinvent itself to being the tourism location it can be, and stop relying on this good old boy system of government that has done nothing productive in the last ten years.

  4. Yes, there will be sales tax revenues from increased lodging, food, gas, shopping, etc. spent locally.

    However, while. I may be wrong, I don’t remember the subject of operational revenue being broached before. The $350.00 entrance fee per team will go to the promoters, and that’s fair. Nobody would object to that, as umpires, statisticians and other support personnel have to be paid for their services, OK. Unless there is an agreement to allow free admission to all the parents and other visitors, as well as free concessions (hot dogs, soft drinks, souvenirs and so forth), then there is significant revenue forthcoming from those venues, as well. As I understand it, not a dime will be paid to the city for the use of the multi-million dollar facility. Hmmm! I wonder where those dollars will go? Anybody got an idea?

    • I’m beginning to think we shouldn’t wait to the election, IMPEACH Posey now! Time for a recall election.

      But, when is his re-election and that of the city council? This November?

  5. Well written. Has there ever been any project completed in Natchitoches without cost overruns? It seems when a city project is in progress there are cost overruns approved every week. Does anyone know what the final cost for the riverfront project was? Will we ever know the final cast of the ballpark?

  6. a very well written article and like the movie our city can’t build a park
    on dreams and hope they will come.This city has way deeper issues then to
    build a sports park.Please remember this in November .

  7. It was my understanding that entire (discovered) money could have been put toward roads and equipment rather than putting half of it towards this ballpark. Is that correct?

    PS I voted no for the ballpark.

    • Yes, that is what we understood as well… This was NOT communicated well to the voters. The wording was 1/2 for the roads and 1/2 for complex… They conveniently left off that 100% would be used for roads, equipment, etc. in my option to get it passed.

  8. Some of us were mere voices screaming in the wilderness back when this was proposed for a vote. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who accepted as gospel the cost estimates is a fool. There are always cost over-runs. But, now the price tag has reached $12 million? I’ve seen the $10 million projection, but now it’s $12!?

    Now, stop and think, each of you…please THINK! How much can the city make from a weekend softball tournament? I have no idea, but I guess it would be measured in $thousands, net return. Remember, like any financial undertaking, there are costs involved every weekend. So, it’s not the gross, it’s the net revenue. Let’s throw out a net of $5,000 for starters. It would take 2,400 weekends just to recover the $12 million. REMEMBER, people, VOTERS, taxpayers of Natchitoches, we are all starting out in a $12 million hole which we have to dig ourselves out of, BEFORE the city can claim any benefit from this park.

    2,400 weekends? That’s 46 years! Oh, we’ll do better than $5,000 some might say. Okay, double it to $10K, that’s 23 years before we can start “making money.” Oh wait, no way will there be revenue-producing tournaments 52 weekends a year, every year. No way! So, bottom line folks, forget it. We’d all been better off if that $9 million had been left alone in the first place.

    PLEASE REMEMBER THIS NEXT ELECTION. ALL OF YOU WHO VOTED “YES” TO TRANSFER THE MONEY. YOU OWE IT TO THOSE OF US WHO KNEW BETTER. VOTE ‘EM ALL OUT!

    • Where are you getting these numbers? I travel almost every weekend with my child for travel tournaments and I guarantee you that more then $5,000 a weekend is made for each city we visit. Hotels are packed, restaurants are packed, this is a good thing for Natchitoches, just ask any travel ball parent how much money is spent on hotels, food, entertainment, etc. EVERY weekend.

      • Yeah, ask Sterlington about all that travel ball money. Their bet on it being an economic driver was a total bust. Travel ball is a grift. It’s a grift on cities who build these parks expecting economic boons that don’t arrive. It’s a grift on parents who sink in untold sums into it only to have a kid that never plays a minute of organized sports after Junior High. The whole thing is a joke. It’s time for cities to start looking at real solutions to problems and not banking on something that is little more than a status race between middle class parents, as if it will in any way solve problems.

      • The hotels and restaurants don’t turn over all gross receipts to the city. They tend to keep some for themselves.

        How can a city make money from such tourneys? Well, entry fees I guess, but other than that, it would be from extra sales tax collected as a direct result of these tournaments. Natch has a 4.5% sales tax for the city, (charges 10% but the state, parish and the school board, I think, all get a slice of it too). So! for the city to realize $5,000 from sales tax means visitors for these tourneys would have to spend $112,000 that weekend. I said I didn’t know, but no one connected to the pro side of this is stepping up to offer any figures. All we get is a bunch of “we spend a bunch of money” stuff like your post.

        To net $10,000 these travel ball parents would have to spend $225,000 in Natchitoches, and that EVERY WEEK just to break even in 23 years. Are you spending that kind of money in Natchitoches 52 times/year?

        I told you where I got my numbers in my original post…I pulled it out of the air. But ya know, I think they might be too high.

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