Squire Pope Road park should be plus for town

info@islandpacket.comJune 17, 2013 

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Despite any animus between Hilton Head Island officials and rowing and sailing groups, the town should move ahead with plans for a community park on Squire Pope Road.

Town manager Steve Riley has the right idea: Bid out construction of the park using the plans in hand and see what the town can afford to build. Those plans call for a fixed pier and floating dock, restrooms, a picnic pavilion, fenced boat storage area and fire pit. The dock would be used for fishing and crabbing, as well as launching boats.

A north-island park that provides access to the water would be welcome, and it would put to good use town-owned property on Skull Creek. The 1995 Regional/Urban Design Team study of how to improve the Ward 1 native-islander area called for more "water-oriented development" in the Squire Pope area.

But a rowing and sailing center has been a moving target since 2001. Proposed locations and amenities have changed, and cost estimates have been all over the map: from $1.5 million to $2.6 million to today's $950,000, a scaled-back version necessitated by tighter town finances than when project plans were first approved in 2007.

In those years, the proposal has run aground on some hard financial realities. The project was put on hold and nearly killed in 2008 when the town's revenue went the wrong direction as the economy soured. Local sailing and rowing groups have not been able to raise the money they hoped to contribute in a public-private partnership with the town. (That number has gone from $500,000, plus an operations endowment, to $356,600 to $18,000 in the bank today.)

That failure should quiet criticism of the town's plans for the property, but it should not preclude taking into account their potential use of the park. There's no good reason to eliminate sailing and rowing features from the plans, as suggested by some Town Council members, just because the group hasn't come up with money for the project. The fenced storage area -- estimated to cost $60,000 -- ought to stay if possible. Storing boats there would be a big boost for the park's use, and parks should be built to be used or why build them at all?

And the rowing and sailing groups aren't the only ones who have made demands about the park. Some of the park's features are a result of nearby residents' request for amenities that fit their interests and historical use of the property. Two of the 7.75 acres were once the site of a seafood cooperative, and the property was long used for crabbing and fishing.

The town rightly took their concerns into consideration when the park was designed.

Town officials have two goals in front of them: Do what's best for the community and do what the town can afford. Each should guide the other.

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