Local government works best when it focuses on providing basic services to its residents, not constructing water parks and other big-ticket amenities in the hopes of turning a profit. Those projects are best left to the private sector, which has the expertise in how to make a buck.
The Hilton Head Island Recreation Association wants the town to build a $7 million to $10 million water park at Chaplin Park, complete with a lazy river, water slides, a splash pad, a wave pool and other features that could accommodate up to 650 visitors. Supporters of the water park say it would be a tourism draw, generating $218,000 a year in income for the town and the association.
The proposal comes after Town Council shot down the recreation association's plan for an aquatics center -- essentially a big pool with warm-up and competition lanes and seats for swimming competitions -- as well as a splash pad play area for children.
Town Council said they instead wanted to focus on other higher-priority projects. And they also raised questions about whether the pool would offset the cost to operate it. Council did, however, vote to keep the proposed aquatic facility, estimated to cost $7.6 million, as part of its five-year plan.
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We understand the association's desire to pursue the water park. Board members say they felt challenged to come up with a revenue-generating plan to help pay for some of the association's activities and, eventually, the much-needed aquatics center.
And we agree that an aquatics center is needed. The town's only public pool, at the recreation center, serves a population almost double the size it was built for 25 years ago. And despite a long list of needed improvements, the pool hosts a range of popular aquatics programs for youth and adults.
A new pool is needed, and the town should find the money to pay for it as soon as it's financially possible, with careful consideration to making it self-sustaining.
But a water park is too risky a venture for the town and an inappropriate function of government.
There's no guarantee visitors will flock to this new attraction at the levels assumed by the recreation association, and the town lacks the know-how to make a water park a profitable success. And it would only operate 120 days each year, sitting idle the rest of the time. Worst of all, if visitors don't come, the town and its taxpayers will be on the hook.
The proposal will get further review by council at the end of the month. We hope their discussion will focus more on building a much-needed aquatics center than a risky water park.