Move carefully on changes at city's waterfront asset

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 29, 2012 

Proponents of a plan for a new day dock bordering Beaufort's downtown district present good arguments for replacing the current dock with something larger and more accessible.

What they have not presented is a good argument that this dock must be placed along the seawall at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park instead of at or near the site of the current day dock.

Many supporters seem to favor a dock closer to the park because it would direct more well-heeled visitors toward Bay Street restaurants and shops.

That certainly would be a welcome benefit.

But it's not clear why that same benefit would not come with a day dock in a less conspicuous location, unless it is supporters' premise that the boaters they would convert to customers lack the ability or willingness to walk an additional 100 yards to get to those shops and restaurants.

It's even less clear how a legitimate government function -- providing public park space -- became a mandate to spend public money for the sake of funneling business to a narrow constituency.

The man whose name is affixed to the park wonders the same thing.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, former Mayor Henry Chambers spoke against positioning the dock where it might obstruct views of the water from the park.

"It is a park to be utilized by all the citizens of Beaufort and not special interest groups," he said. Grasping the distinction between happy byproduct and city mandate, he added that the park "was not designed as an income-generator, even though it is the reason downtown has revitalized."

Plans for a water sports and recreation center of 3,000 to 7,000 square feet also is troubling. There is no reason -- save more favors to narrow interests -- for the city to get into the recreational boating business, even if it hires a private entity to run it.

Such a facility is an exciting idea, but why not leave it to the private sector. If those who want it are so certain it will provide a net benefit, they should have no problem pooling and risking their own capital to build and run it.

As for City Council, it could vote as early as mid-October on the proposal, which would need two affirmative votes to be incorporated into the city's master plan. But there's little reason to hurry a decision in light of the split sentiment displayed at Tuesday's meeting.

The configuration and views from the city's vital center are simply too important to rush a decision.

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