Local officials need to make ‘field of dreams’ a reality

If you build it, they will come, to paraphrase a much-repeated line from the iconic baseball movie, Field of Dreams. In the film, the main character draws much derision for plowing up his cornfield to build a baseball park. No one will drive all the way to the middle of nowhere in Iowa to watch baseball, detractors tell him. But by the movie’s end, the single road to the brightly lighted field is packed with cars as far as the eye can see.

In the movies, dreams easily come true – that’s why they call it entertainment. But dreams serve a vital purpose in the real world as well. They give us hope, which when combined with faith and perseverance, can achieve great things.

Last week, amid the bleakest, coldest winter we’ve seen in Brookhaven for a long time, two events occurred that gave us reason to dream – provided these glimmers of hope are not snuffed out by the detractors that are sure to come forward to tell us why we should stop dreaming.

Last Monday, a group of local citizens who have formed a Baseball Facility Concept Marketing Team came before the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors to propose a new youth baseball facility be constructed on county land between the Lincoln Civic Center and the Hansel King Sports Complex.

Then on Tuesday, the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen moved to present a petition to the legislature seeking a 3 percent tourism tax on overnight stays in hotels and restaurants in the city. While the proposed tax must first gain legislative approval and then a vote of confidence from citizens, it’s an idea that has already been put into use in neighboring towns. Cities like Natchez and McComb are already reaping the benefits of the increased tax revenue, which then can be used to help promote events that draw visitors to the area.

Although separate, the two proposals, if followed through on, will work together to give our lagging economy a much-needed shot in the arm. One need only to drive through the city’s commercial centers to see that many once-thriving businesses have shuttered their doors. The recession has hit our area hard.

But here and there, we see downtown buildings being revived and repurposed – a hotel where there once was an empty store, an event venue down the street in another previously vacant building, another venue site in a former church and scores of busy apartments on the second floors of buildings all over the city’s center. In each of these successful transformations, the fear of change was put aside.

And it also took financial investment to bring these new businesses into being. In each case, the dreams and the money have come from private investment.

It’s time for the city and the county government to step forward and have as much faith in our future as these private citizens. Yes, there will be detractors who will say building a new baseball facility is frivolous. To them we say, bah, humbug.

Youth sports are not only fun and character-building for kids, they also have become great for business. On any area tournament weekend, if you go out to eat, you’ll notice local restaurants and fast-food outlets are busier than usual.

The surge in activity at area eateries also will be matched by a multitude of booked rooms at local hotels, thanks to the influx of hundreds of players, coaches, families and fans.

Just one event last summer drew 56 teams, each averaging 12 players. That’s around 600 players alone. Add in two or three coaches per team, plus two or more family members and friends per player, and you have a significant number of visitors in town.

Tournaments pump a considerable number of dollars into the local economy, through lodging, dining, gasoline and other retail expenditures. While helping our local businesses, those purchases also funnel sales tax revenue into our community.

Combine a new baseball complex with the promotional dollars that a new tax on lodging will create, and our community will be able to keep the benefits coming.

First we must build it, which is now in the hands of the board of supervisors. Then, with the new tax on lodging, we’ll have the funds needed to keep them coming to Lincoln County and Brookhaven.

Local business people have already stepped up to show their faith in our community’s future. Now we strongly urge our city and county officials and the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce to believe just as strongly in our future and endorse this new baseball complex.

Yes, building it will cost money. But a facility like the one proposed will pay for itself many times over.

The proposed baseball complex may just be a field of dreams at the moment, but dreams are what this community must have if it is to grow and prosper.