Unlimited potential: Belleview Park upgrades put Iberville at forefront of rec programs
Iberville Parish officials knew that the improvements at Belleview Park would lead to something residents had never seen before in Plaquemine.
“Somebody at the park told me they can’t believe they’re in Plaquemine,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said.
They saw it in a big way during the weekend with season-ending youth baseball and softball programs at the renovated park.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Iberville Parks and Recreation Director Erik Willis said Sunday. “Our complex stacks up against any in the state or even the South.”
The facility opened in late March after two years of work on an $8 million renovation of the complex adjacent to the Carl F. Grant Civic Center.
The timing to begin the project was impeccable, Ourso said.
“People from the design group who did this facility said we hit this rat the right time,” he said. “When we put it out for bid, it opened at $7.2 million.
“A project similar to this is being planned in Jefferson Parish, and they just opened bids,” Ourso said. “It was $20 million – that’s how much everything has gone up in the last two years.”
The four fields at the Plaquemine facility have artificial turf. The complex can serve as a multiple sports, Willis said.
“We have four fields that can be any size you want them to be, going all the way from youth softball and high school softball for girls, and all the way up to 12-U for boys,” he said. “We can now accommodate so many more games and practice.”
The batting cages are another gamechanger, he said.
“This all helps our recreation program tremendously,” Willis said. “It’s great for the community and has a positive impact on everything in our community.”
A vast canopied area – equipped with ceiling fans – is located at the center of the complex to for eventgoers to gather, enjoy concessions or just to cool off.
In honor of Stampley
The playing fields in the complex were named in honor of Dale Stampley, a lifelong resident and public servant who worked more than 25 years with the Iberville Parish Council and Iberville Parks and Recreation.
Stampley – who was described as “an avid sports fan who participated baseball and softball programs his entire life – served on the first Board of Commissioners of Iberville Parish Parks and Recreation District and was the board’s president for 10 years.
A memorial plaque at the entrance of the ballpark celebrates the contributions Stampley made to parish recreation. He died in March 2021 while traveling to the North Iberville Community Center in Rosedale to assist the Office of Community Services in providing support to residents in the northern portion of the parish.
The facility upgrade had been on Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso’s radar for years.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said.
The upgrades redefined the standard for parks decades after Iberville Parish formed a recreation commission.
In those days, however, it was a separate entity and not part of the Parish Government.
“They had to start from nothing when they started putting this together way back in the 1980s,” Ourso said. “They did the best with the money they had to work with and the money they had coming in with the millage, and they did a great job.”
The recreation district – which oversees parks, fields and other facilities – grew after the Parish Government brought it under its wing.
It was a necessary move to provide the caliber of recreation neighboring parishes offered, Ourso said.
“We were tired of hearing this and that about why we don’t have this or that, but it wasn’t affordable with 3 mills of taxes supporting Parks and Recreation at the time,” he said. “Taking them under the win and making the parish council a board member gave us the ability to finance $8 million to do something like that where the previous parks group didn’t have that.”
When the IPRD was created, the parish faced a roadblock because a law stipulated it could not own land.
Ourso said he is thankful of the work of previous officials, particularly Mike Markins.
“I’m not knocking Mike at all – we grew up together on Plaquemine Street -- but he and his staff had to start from nothing when they put this program together way back in the 1980s.
“They did their best with the money that they had to work with and the money they had coming in with the millage … they did a great job,” Ourso said. “We just wanted to take them a little bit further when we put them underneath our wing.”
He wants the parish residents to feel a sense of ownership in the complex.
“I think people will really enjoy this, they need to be proud of it and need to take care of it,” Ourso said. “The Parish Council hasn’t gotten rules set yet on outside rental, and it’s not going to be worth the money if it’s not taken care of in the beginning.”
The sky’s the limit
The complex is almost a dream come true for Willis, a Plaquemine High School graduate who later coached high school football at St. John, Brusly and other area schools.
It’s not just for summer, either.
“We’re learning as we go,” he said. “When I say that, everyone looks at it in sense of baseball and softball, but we could also do some football (youth and junior varsity) and host so many soccer games for kids … I’m very excited about the multisport aspect.”
The goal is to eventually host tournaments toward middle of summer, Willis said. “The goal is to eventually make this a year-round facility,” he said. “I think it will become the centerpiece of our city, and we feel very fortune to bring this facility to the parish.”