Opinion: Cornerstone Park project a home run with a necessary price tag

A rendering of Cornerstone Park

Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

To many, the word taxes can be off-putting. 

But in a city based on tourism, Starkville must be willing to harness the power of its chief source of revenue to see the sustained growth that so many desire. 

Enter the proposed Cornerstone Park - a multimillion dollar youth sports facility that has been the dream of many for years. 

And if you’ve been paying attention, you have seen the wheels are in motion to make this dream a reality. 

ALSO READ: Designers present Cornerstone Park design plans

The Board of Aldermen earlier this month passed a one percent food and beverage and hotel tax levy, with the funds raised going toward the construction of the new sports facility — an amenity that many have called for to boost the undervalued youth sports profile for Starkville and Oktibbeha County. 

As we previously reported, the tax levy would increase the current two percent food and beverage levy to three percent and would add a one percent tax levy to Starkville hotel costs. 

For the measure to pass, though, the state legislature must approve the levy, paving the way for Starkville to hold a public referendum on the levy, with a required 60-percent majority vote to pass.

As seen with the hospital referendum last year, when the local voting base puts its mind to something, the will of the people is always realized — and this project will prove no exception if placed on the ballot. 

Starkville has a robust food and lodging market, one that continues to expand, offering an equally-robust financial contribution to Starkville’s coffers. So why not capitalize on that for the long term? 

While the Sportsplex is an important part of the local youth sports culture, having a major tournament facility will go hand-in-hand with the new Dudy Noble Field and the vibrant sports culture that is woven into Starkville’s identity. 

It will also provide a place where the history of local sports is put on display for visitors. No young ballplayer should play an inning in Starkville without first being exposed to the legacy of legends like James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, which is a proposed feature of Cornerstone Park. 

As travel ball becomes the norm for baseball- and softball-focused families, Starkville surely has the stomach to pony up and cash in on a business that Time magazine valued at $15 billion. And on the MSU campus, a major tie-in to this travel ball fever is about to be open for visitors. 

The new “Dude” is lauded as the most expensive and state-of-the-art college ballpark in the country, and is sure to attract scores of youth teams and families to the area, which could be made even more attractive with a comparable youth sports complex sitting in its shadow. 

If handled properly, Cornerstone Park could also represent a boon for the region, providing youth sports across the Golden Triangle and beyond a facility to not only play ball at, but located in a city where they might want to stay a while — enjoying the various culinary and cultural offerings in the back yard of a major SEC institution. 

What’s more, the recent financial numbers from Starkville Airbnb hosts during MSU football weekends shines the spotlight on a tourism market primed for visitors that is affordable for families on any budget, which could then open the door for families coming to Cornerstone Park who may not be so keen on leaving as soon as the ballpark lights cut off.  

It is my hope the legislature will green light this levy and the people of Starkville will get on board with a concept that could yield incalculable benefits for our community for decades to come. 

So write, call or email your policymakers if you support this project, or contact them with your concerns if you have questions about how the funds will be appropriated if the levy becomes a reality. 

With that said, if tourism is going to be the bread-and-butter attitude of Starkville, it is crucial for the votes to reflect that ideal. 

While so much of the policy that shapes our world is left up to elected officials, this is a rare opportunity to have a direct say in a project that could completely transform the fabric of your community. 

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this opinion column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either paper or their staffs.