The Ridgeland Parks and Recreation Department is eyeing $1.4 million in major improvements to the baseball and softball fields at Freedom Ridge Park with hopes to attract junior high and high school tournaments.

Parks Director Chris Chance said that his plan involved turfing fields at Freedom Ridge Park, specifically to target games and tournaments for ages 13 to 18 in addition to the events Ridgeland already holds.

“There is good reason to look into these types of events because there is almost no competition. Most park departments are looking to draw from a 40-mile radius, but as the kids get older and the less serious players are filtered out, you are looking at pulling from as far away as Georgia and the Florida panhandle if we can get some of the tournaments I have in mind,” Chance told aldermen Monday. 

He noted that he had talked to several organizers who would be interested in staging tournaments in Ridgeland if they had the proper facilities.

Chance said other improvements would include batting cages.

Chance said that “conservative” estimates based on his observations, could generate about 1,200 room nights a year for the city and hopes to see it grow to as high as 3,000 room nights a year within three years.

He said that parks in Brandon, Flowood, McGee, and Vicksburg have or are getting turf fields.

Chance said that it will draw a crowd with different interests and needs.

“In my experience, when my son was younger, the games were quicker and there was less time between them so we would run out to McDonald’s or something quick, but now we look for a Primos or something where we can sit down,” Chance said.

The project would cost an estimated $1.4 million and would be paid for over time at a rate of between $170,000 and $200,000 a year, though Chance said he was still researching financing options.

Chance said he had already found around $100,000 a year in his budget, including new and future sponsorships and roughly $25,000 that would be saved on maintaining the fields.

Chance said he would like to start the bidding process in January.

“If we decide to do this we will lose our spring season at Freedom Ridge and I would like to get on this so we don’t lose the summer as well,” Chance said.

Mayor Gene McGee encouraged aldermen to schedule meetings with Chance in the intervening weeks so that a decision could be made soon.

“I am 100 percent for this,” Ward 6 Alderman Wesley Hamlin said. “My son is starting to get into this and I think its a great idea.”