Parc Natchitoches was conceived to provide NSU and the City of Natchitoches with high quality sports facilities that neither could provide alone. Parc Natchitoches was designed to attract traveling athletic teams, their families and fans to Natchitoches to support the local hospitality economy. Parc Natchitoches was built to provide improved recreational options for residents.
More than two years after its grand opening, the question becomes, is Parc Natchitoches a success? One of the signature achievements of Lee Posey’s administration, the park’s location makes it the first area attraction visitors reach when arriving from I-49. For spectators traveling to see tournaments and other games, it’s also the feature of the city they care most about.
Kevin Warner is Director of Recreation and Parks for the city. He considers Parc Natchitoches a success based on its usage. He checks the upcoming season on his calendar. “I have seven tournaments scheduled in the fall, but we try to do something year-round,” he says. “To give you an idea of how booked it is, I have 18 weekends booked right now for 2023 and I’m just getting started.”
Warner markets and maintains the park for competitive sports. “It’s $250 per field per day,” he says of the cost to rent the facilities. He admits that he can’t speak to the park’s cashflow. “I know nothing about the finances. I do the recreation, and I host the events. All I do is send the invoices to the finance office,” he says. He makes it clear that he measures his success by bringing teams to Natchitoches for compete, and he points to the broader benefits to the community. “We try to put heads in beds. That’s our job,” he says.
Local hotel magnate Jay Sharplin owns many of the beds Warner refers to and sees the impact the park has on his business, though he worries that the current season isn’t as busy as the year before. “It’s been a little slower this year than last year. I would say last year we had a few more tournaments and I would think probably larger tournaments, but any weekend we have something, it definitely helps,” he says. He suggests the slowdown is the result of competition from other parks. “I know there’s some parks in Alexandria that are opened and reopened and also in Shreveport,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s cause to have less tournaments or not.”
Angela Lasyone’s restaurant is closely tied to the park’s performance. Her restaurant provides the concessions offered at the park during sporting events, and her contract with the city stipulates 15% of her sales there go to the city’s coffers. “My check to the city could be anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 for the month,” she says. She clarifies that her payments to the city don’t include state and local sales taxes, which are paid separately. Combined with sales taxes, nearly a quarter of her company’s revenue at the park goes to state or local government, with 19.45% of her sales dedicated to the city’s coffers.
Lasyone is pleased with the arrangement because the concessions sales have become an important contributor to her business. “On tournament play you can almost count on every team bringing in at least $400 for the weekend.” she says. She thinks high fuel costs are having a dampening effect on the park. “When gas prices were normal we were bringing 30 and 40 teams a weekend in.”
Lasyone also expresses concern that last year’s was busier because fewer sports parks were operational. “We do have a lot of competition, so it is like a business,” she says. “Just about all of (the sports parks) have their own website, and we really need that.” She describes the potential benefit of a standalone website for the park. “They would know we have a fishing pond, we have a walking trail, where if the kids want to bring their bikes and ride between games and other stuff they could.”
Lasyone believes the benefits the park brings to the city are widely enjoyed. “These kids walk around with $300 bats and everything else. They spend money when they’re in town,” she says. “You’ve got the restaurants that are staying busy, fast food and dine-in, you’ve got the hotels that are staying booked, (and) you’ve got the gas stations that are pumping the gas.”
Providing the park’s concessions means Lasyone directly benefits when the park performs well, and she emphasizes the impact on the local economy. “I also employ about seven people out there. My payroll runs about $1,500 just for one weekend. That goes back to the economy as well,” she says. “You can talk to any of the stores downtown, Kaffie’s or wherever, and they’ll tell you if it wouldn’t have been for baseball, especially when Covid was going on, it would have been extremely hard.”
Luke Frederick owns Kaffie-Frederick on Front Street and expects most visitors to downtown to pass through his shop at some point during their trip. He admits he was originally unsure about the park’s potential. “Initially, because of the cost of the park, I was skeptical of what the results would be, but the park was built and especially the first season or year we saw an extremely positive impact from the number of visitors who were on the travelling ball circuit, “ he says. “I think it was a great benefit to Natchitoches.”
Frederick suggests it doesn’t take a keen eye to realize who’s in town for tournaments. “You can notice a marked increase in traffic based on what the kids are wearing,” he says. “The kids don’t change out of their uniforms, so we know they’re baseball people.” He has also heard of a proliferation of sports parks around the state, though he voices cautious optimism that the park will continue to draw visitors. “Hopefully we can get a leg up and host a few more teams in the upcoming months.”
Warner also points to the everyday amenities the park offers to area residents. “We have lots of people who use the facility for walking and jogging and bike-riding, and there’s now four pavilions out there with picnic tables,” he says. “There’s four playground pieces of equipment and we just recently built a new restroom up on the entrance part.” He also points to local and regional activities. “We run our own youth programs, Northwestern does their intramurals out there and all the high school events are out there if they get rain at their field,” he says. “People blow my phone up if they get rain on Wednesday evening wanting to reserve a park so they can play their high school games.”
Some residents aren’t entirely positive about the park’s role in the community. “There are teams that come and play in this area in this park and our kids in the projects can’t even go to it,” says Natchitoches resident Gwendolyn Hardison. “There’s no transportation, parents don’t have that vision and they don’t have any way to get them there.”
Hardison offers ideas for how to address the park’s remoteness. “You can do a shuttle, but you’ve got to have a parent excuse. You’ve got to have parent participation. I don’t think that’s going to happen too much.” She suggests a solution based on her experience working for the school district. “The only way they’re going to get there is if the school takes them,” she says. “We always take activities at the end of the year so that would be a way.”
Hardison makes it clear she opposed the park from the beginning because of its proposed location. “I let my representative know that I was not in favor of that park for that reason. It was too far out. It was too much money in and you don’t have any of our kids, our cultures and no one lives out there.”
As Director of the local branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana, De’Andrea “Coach D” Sanders is planning to use the park’s facilities next year. “We probably won’t use it until next summer, but we were trying to line up our field trips,” she says. She knows other community groups are using the park also. “Recently I went to a Leadership Natchitoches class because I was in their first cohort, and we had a reunion kickball game out there, so the Chamber is using it,” she says. “Being a softball coach and following (it) locally they have a ton of softball games here.”
NSU’s role in the park isn’t as substantial as originally envisioned. NSU utilizes the facilities less than originally planned and the city is solely responsible for the park’s operation. Assistant Athletics Director Jason Pugh indicates the university simply prefers to use its own facilities whenever possible. “We don’t (use the park) for intercollegiate competition,” he says. “I think we’ve talked about it as a back-up just in case.” He reveals the university’s use of the park is for primarily small-scale activities such as intramural sports and summer sports camps. Baseball has used it for their camps, their youth camps.”
One resident who expresses strong feelings about Parc Natchitoches is Lee Posey. As former mayor, he was involved in the park’s design and construction. He recounts his inspiration for the park. “The reasons were to enhance our participation in our local leagues as well as bringing teams from out of town, because I had seen the economic benefits of doing something like this.” He also sensed a need at NSU. “Other universities had a lot better intramural sports complexes than (NSU) did,” he says. He also explained the location chosen for Parc Natchitoches wasn’t his first choice. “We first looked at enhancing a project over in East Natchitoches we already had and build it from there, but we couldn’t. The people around us weren’t willing to give up any land. We looked at a place south of town and couldn’t get any land there either.”
Posey’s park didn’t turn out exactly as he expected, but he believes the resulting park is better because of lessons learned along the way. “We visited probably five places across the state that had sports complexes, trying to get ideas when we were doing this and we learned a lot,” he says. “It’s the philosophy that all of us are smarter than one of us.” He now enjoys the park as a resident of Natchitoches and describes a recent visit he made with his family. “I have eight grandkids,” he says. “Three of the youngest ones we took out there and went bike-riding and walking and to the playground.”
Is Parc Natchitoches competitive?