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|Recreation plan pitched to port commission|
The West Ouachita Recreation District says its master plan for recreational activities in western Ouachita Parish could go a long way in promoting economic development for all of Ouachita.
On Wednesday, the Greater Ouachita Port Commission agreed that improving the quality of life in the parish, such as enhancing recreational activities, would greatly increase the chances for more businesses to locate in the parish.
The port commission listened to Mark Fenn explain the recreation district's plans to improve recreational activities in west Ouachita. Fenn serves on the recreation district's seven-member board of directors.
The recreational district asked Rep. Frank Hoffmann to introduce legislation during the next Regular Session of the Legislature to allow the district to levy up to a one-third cent sales tax for funding the district's operations. Revenue generated by a sales tax also could be used for the construction of new recreational facilities.
The recreation district may not pursue levying a sales tax, but legislation must be passed by the Legislature to allow the recreation district to do it. That's because there is no state statute that allows a recreation district to be funded by a sales tax.
The recreation district also may look at leveling a property tax, or millage, to fund the recreation district's activities.
Either way, any tax proposed by the recreation district must be approved by the voters of western Ouachita.
Fenn said the district would look into all viable funding options to support the district's activities.
Port commission chairman Ricky Guillot said improving quality of life issues in the parish was important for economic development.
"This is in concert with what we're trying to accomplish with the port commission because if we don't improve the quality of life it would be hard to increase job growth," Guillot said.
Fenn said the recreation district believes recreational activities in all of Ouachita Parish is lacking, which could hamper future economic development.
Guillot added, "When we look for a comprehensive recreational complex, does that exist anywhere in the parish? The answer is no. The quality of life in Ouachita Parish would be enhanced. That's the bottom line."
Fenn said in west Ouachita Parish there are about 100 acres south of Interstate 20 that is solely designated for recreation.
The district's master plan calls for developing that land into a large recreation complex with an aquatic center, major basketball complex, soccer fields, baseball and softball fields and tennis courts.
Such a complex could bring in national and state tournaments for each sport, packing restaurants, motels and retail stores all over Ouachita Parish, Fenn said.
"Right now we feel like this is the time to go after this … when opportunities like this come up, if you don't seize them, it's about 25 years before they come back around," Fenn said. "We can't wait another 25 to 30 years."
"We just think this could be another tool in Ouachita Parish's toolbox to attract more industry," he said.
In the meantime, Fenn said the district plans to "get the heartbeat of the community" on which direction residents think the district should take on matters such as the funding issue.