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Johnny Downs yet to be rebuilt after tornado destroyed complex

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 6:31 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - When an EF-3 tornado struck Alexandria last December, it caused significant damage to the Johnny Downs Sports Complex.

It is feared that the renovations needed for the fields will not be done in time for next year’s Dixie League World Series.

Justin Foltz, the Vice President for the Alexandria Dixie Girl’s Softball Program, said, “I’m hoping we don’t have any interruptions. I’m just hoping we can pull this off without any delays.”

Foltz also added that the City of Alexandria was not properly taking care of the facility, even before the tornado destroyed it.

“I’ve been out there 16 years. I have rarely seen any upgrades or upkeeps to the grounds. There’s hardly been any top dressing and I know you have to top dress the fields every one to two years,” said Foltz.

The park was scheduled to receive upgrades last year. They were going to put AstroTurf on eight fields and install new lights, but the tornado halted the project.

Alexandria District 5 City Councilman Chuck Fowler spoke on the progress of rebuilding the facility by saying, “Right now we are nowhere. We’re in the process of getting everything done.”

The Alexandria City Council has been working with the Pan-American engineer company to plan the rebuild of Johnny Downs. However, Fowler says they’re waiting on a settlement with the insurance company.

Fowler said, “Until we have the final settlement from the insurance company, we will not know how much we have to repair and replace from the insurance company.”

Several months ago, the Alexandria City Council voted 4-2 in favor of not spending any more money on Johnny Downs than the insurance settlement. Councilmen Joe Fuller, Gerber Porter, Jules Green and Malcolm Larvadain voted in favor.

“Joe Fuller stated at a meeting you know, y’all have been doing this for a long time, now it’s our turn. What does he mean by now it’s our turn? Is he going to try to hurt Johnny Downs or try to do something else? I don’t agree with him. I think we should do everything that we can to maintain it and keep it as good as a shape as we possibly can and make it better,” said Fowler.

City Councilman At-Large Joe Fuller responded to Fowler’s statement about him saying, “All I said was what we’re going to do is make sure we bring it back to where it was. They came in wanting a whole lot of extras added to the park, and I was just saying basically what we were going to do is try to put it back like it was.”

The council is estimating they’ll have seven million dollars to fix it up, but there are two different beliefs between the city council and Dixie softball on what all that money will be used for.

Fuller said, “The idea was, we were not about to spend seven million on Johnny Downs. The idea was in case we had to spend some of our money and the insurance company wouldn’t come through fast enough. We put an estimate number in the budget and that’s an estimate, but it wasn’t just supposed to be for all Johnny Downs.”

“There’s seven million in the budget, and I’ve seen the budget in there. Seven million...there is a line item that stipulates Johnny Downs. The rebuilding of Johnny Downs is seven million,” said Foltz.

Foltz said that on July 31, Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall told the Dixie softball program that he wanted to set a time frame to get the ball rolling on this project and have it done by May. Dixie says that to get all the proper renovations for Johnny Downs ready for the scheduled world series in July, they will need every penny of the $7 million in the budget.

In softball alone, the complex has played host to 36 world series since 2011. The Dixie softball program is worried that if the facility is not done in time for next year’s world series, they will lose future bids for hosting tournaments in Alexandria not just with Dixie, but with travel ball and high school as well.

Foltz said, ”We have municipalities in 11 states that bid on these things. They are waiting for Alexandria to mess this up, so they can go, well they can’t do it anymore. They used to be real good at it and here we are and most are coming in now with state of the art facilities.”

Ruston and Natchitoches have recently opened up multi-million dollar complexes to compete with Alexandria for hosting tournaments in Central Louisiana. These tournaments provide economic value for the cities that they are played in.

In a three month span over the summer, the economic impact could reach $12 to $15 million in tax revenue, something the City of Alexandria knows they can’t afford to lose.

“We’re going to do our very best to make sure we make the world series happen for the girls here, and if it doesn’t, it’s not because we don’t try. We are, I am 100% committed and behind the soccer, baseball, and the softball program,” said Fowler.

It was also suggested by the council to move the world series to the complex by Cabrini, however, Dixie says that three of the four age groups participating cannot play on that field, because it is too small.

The plan as of today is to have the facilities renovated and ready to play ball in time for the world series.

Dixie says that in the event that the Johnny Downs facility is not done in time for the world series, they will use the youth complex by Cabrini for the younger age groups and Wards 9 and 10 for the older age groups.

Copyright 2020 KALB. All rights reserved.

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