By Chris Van Tuyl
It will only be a matter of time before City of Southaven Parks and Recreation Director Wes Brown can make his way to his office window and visualize the next big thing at Snowden Grove Park.
A stone’s throw from what’s already been tabbed “America’s Premier Youth Sports Destination,” Brown and city officials have green-lighted FieldTurf Inc. to begin an artificial turf renovation for the facility’s 17 baseball fields. But that’s only about two-thirds of the good news for players and coaches from near and far.
Roughly 10 minutes down the road, the Greenbrook Softball Complex is also set to undergo the turf facelift on its eight diamonds, bringing the total number of fields to 25, that weather-dependent, will be ready to sparkle for the 2021 season.
“Snowden Grove and Greenbrook are still among the leaders in youth sports,” Brown said. “We have built a reputation of playing when other complexes rain out and cancel events. Now, we hope our customers see we take their opinions seriously and we are committed to remaining the best place to play baseball and softball. When they invest their time and money now, they know we will be playing ball.”
Southaven leaders got the ball rolling on the potential arrival of the turf in 2016. Meetings and brainstorm sessions were commonplace, and better yet, it didn’t take a very long car trip to see that turf was working across North Mississippi and neighboring Southern states.
“We realized that nationwide, turf was no longer a fad but an amenity that customers were looking for,” said Brown. “Local parks in Oxford, Tupelo and Jackson have turf fields. Also, several parks in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia have turf fields. They have been successful. They host events earlier and later in the year because weather is not a factor any longer.”
Turning the keys over to FieldTurf Inc. to complete the $5.6 million project was an easy one, according to Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite.
“For many years, Snowden Grove and Greenbrook Parks have set the standard for youth baseball and softball facilities,” he said. “The addition of turf will continue to make our city the top choice in youth sports venues for many years to come. We must give our customers what they want. Tourism is a major component of our economic success with baseball and softball producing approximately $12 million annually in total dollars spent in our city and total economic impact of approximately $25 million annually.”
Musselwhite then dove deeper into the city’s business decision, declaring that approximately $216,000 annually will be saved in labor costs for maintenance.
“Replacing the natural infields will add an estimated $350,000 annually in direct revenue to the city by eliminating tournament rainouts and lost revenues from teams changing venues due to a rainy forecast,” he said. “Obviously, eliminating these rainouts adds tremendously to the indirect economic benefits also by keeping the teams coming to our city and patronizing our businesses. Additionally, as with all our park amenities, this new turf will add enjoyment for our recreational league players as well.”
FieldTurf Inc. Marketing Manager Iannick Di Sanza deemed the agreement with Southaven huge, and was quick to point out that becoming a partner with their clients has always been the company’s No. 1 goal.
“We try to make the experience easy, fun and productive for everybody,” he said. “There’s no greater feeling than to put a new field in the ground and have local athletes utilize it. That’s really what powers us and keeps us going: Creating a surface that athletes can use – and dream on.”
FieldTurf Inc. is bringing its DoublePlay series to Southaven. It was recently installed at both the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Di Sanza says whether its overhauling one college ballpark or a dozen youth fields, the Calhoun (Ga.) turf supplier is up to the task.
“Across the country, we’re heavily involved in parks and recreation projects with a multitude of cities from New York to Chicago,” he said. “They’re definitely beautiful to look at. And the drainage on these systems are simply incredible. We can get a torrential rain, and then right after the rain stops, you can play on it right away. Another reason why it makes so much sense to convert a natural surface to artificial.”
In a typical year, Snowden Grove Park will host more than 10 tournaments each weekend from March to June, while July is dedicated to the Dizzy Dean World Series. COVID-19 played a significant role on the 2020 schedule, yet Brown is eagerly anticipating 2021.
“There are many advantages that coincide with each other. Cost savings, additional events and fall leagues are some,” he said. “The largest benefits are that we maintain our status as an industry leader in youth sports, we amplify our role as a tourism driver for our local economy and our local kids will have an even better complex to call home.”