With the recent addition of new lighting and windscreens at the Tatum Park Tennis Complex, upgrades at that site are complete for now and just in time for the South Mississippi Singles League Invitational that was held Feb. 27-28.
The work was made possible with the help of funds from the additional 1% sales tax on Hattiesburg restaurants, motels and hotels that was approved by voters in 2019.
“It’s good to see these projects that were promised and campaigned on come to fruition,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “We are almost two years into the 1 cent (increase), and we have seen so many ribbon cuttings and ground breakings.
“We have a very strong and competitive tennis environment here in Hattiesburg, and we’ve hosted that statewide singles tournament for 10 years now. But there are some things that, as Tatum gets older, we’re going to have to do to continue to stay competitive, particularly as other cities catch up to us. So, to get the lights and windscreens done, those are two big things that our tennis community asked for.”
The lighting upgrade was completed in the fall of 2020 and included replacing and upgrading all light systems at the complex.
Buckhaults Electric was selected as the vendor for that job through a sealed bid process with the total upgrade cost at $80,000.
The windscreens were replaced and reinstalled in late February at a total cost of $41,000.
That project was helped along with a $3,500 grant from the Mississippi Tennis Association and a $5,000 grant from the United States Association and was completed by Gray Builders.
With those two latest endeavors, the Tatum Park Tennis Complex has received more than $100,000 in necessary upgrades.
“Of course, right now we’re in the process of doing the master plan for Tatum Park,” Barker said. “We’re thinking big in terms of all of our sports facilities, especially at Tatum because there’s so much sports tourism.
“Last weekend, you went out there and you saw over 100 teams playing soccer that stayed here two nights, from all over the southeast. You saw a lacrosse tournament over at Sacred Heart’s sports facility, where teams from Memphis and Oxford came in here, and you saw this tennis tournament.”
Barker said while Tatum Park is strong in terms of creating revenue for the local economy, officials also want to ensure they are equitable in allocating resources to various sites.
“(That’s) why you saw us build a tennis facility over on East 8th Street near Chain Park before we did the tennis project at Tatum,” he said. “So, we’re trying to make sure that we’re keeping our competitive edge when it comes to sports tourism but also making sure there’s equity among neighborhoods in having access to quality sports facilities. Those have to be balanced.”
The 1% tax increase, which was passed with an 81% approval rate, was expected to bring in approximately $4.2 million in new revenue.
Half of those funds are earmarked for 17 Parks and Recreation Department projects around the city while the other half will be used for renovations at Reed Green Coliseum on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.
Initial projections expected the tax to generate about $100,000 a month for the city and another $100,000 for Southern Miss, but through the first four months of the tax, the measure generated an average of $117,000 per month.
In addition to the tennis complex improvements, projects completed with the help of the tax include a walking trail extension at Duncan Lake, a batting cage at Vernon Dahmer Park and the replacement of the gymnasium floor at Thames Elementary School.
“It has not only expanded our facility use and enabled us to continue our Parks and Rec facilities, but I think it’s also been a huge morale boost to neighborhoods,” Barker said. “To see kids out playing on a basketball court at six, seven o’clock at night – even when it gets dark at five – to see people playing pickleball at Thames Elementary and getting into that school and seeing what’s there (is great).
“There’s been multiple benefits of having that 1% sales tax, and I think it certainly causes us to dream about the future, about what projects we want to tackle next."