GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport says its Sportsplex is back to where it was pre-Katrina. Its projected economic impact for the hotels, restaurants and shops in the area is $36 million. If that total proves to be accurate, it would be an all-time high.
Yet, at least one Gulfport councilman has tossed around the idea of letting another agency take over the Sportsplex's day-to-day operations. Councilman Rusty Walker knows the Gulfport Sportsplex can be a gem, if it's developed the way it was initially intended.
"What we do know is that we have this fabulous facility that can be the greatest economic development tool for any city," he said.
On Friday, the base for field five's home plate needed to be located and then dug up so younger elite all stars could play in Todd Buster's weekend tournament.
"We thought Gulfport, with all the amenities that are offered here, would be a perfect place for it," Buster said while players waited to check-in.
Buster is from the New Orleans area. But a couple of times each year, he brings hundreds of ballplayers, and their families, to the Gulfport Sportsplex for multi-team competitions.
"One, because it's going to be an economic impact. The other is because the facility is first class," he said.
Rusty Ramage oversees the day-to-day operations of the Sportsplex for the city of Gulfport.
"The things we've done to improve the facility has really made this an enhanced facility," he said.
Ramage has teams on his fields 42 weekends a year. He believes that translates into a nearly $36 million economic impact for businesses around the city.
However, Councilman Walker worries that the $400,000 annual maintenance cost at the Sportsplex may be too much for the city to take on right now.
"We're in budget, and of course every agency, and every city owned property, we're looking at trying to save money on," the ward four councilman said on Friday.
One of Walker's suggestions to offset Gulfport's budget concerns is to reconsider who operates the Sportsplex. He's heard from Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant. It turns out Savant is interested in stepping up to the plate to maintain Sportsplex fields, and expand them. Councilman Walker sees some merit in that option, as long as Gulfport ballplayers still get access to these fields.
"We're open to every option at this point," thought Walker. "And if we can get more fields and more resources and let more of our Gulfport citizens use it, and then on top of that, be a better economic development tool, we're for it."
Mayor Schloegel will present his recommendations for Gulfport's budget next Thursday. Funding for the Sportsplex will be outlined that afternoon. So will any layoffs the city may have to consider to trim its costs by 10 percent.