Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Whitewater boondoggle? No, visionary.

Is it foolish for Mecklenburg County to try and make the non-profit U.S. Whitewater Center a county park?

No. It's visionary. But it will require a regional approach - and require that the county drive a hard bargain with the money.
Why should county officials paddle into this turbulence?

For starters the 307-acre site sits on public land. It's the world's largest artifical whitewater river for rafting and kayaking ­ - and more. There's long-term value in having that as a regional resource.

The park is in a large, lovely natural area in a relentlessly urban region (1.5 million people) that has a large outdoor recreation-oriented population - and few places to practice it.
Given those things, rescuing the center from default on loans would be a shrewd move.

But it will take a shrewd deal to do so without putting taxpayers at risk. If the mountain of debt the developers of this non-profit acquired could be retired at a bargain price with regional effort, the center could be self-supporting. So we don't quite buy what the county's general manager said: That absorbing the park is out of the question without cuts to other county parks.

One key point: The development of the U.S. Whitewater Center, to date, has suffered from a lack of attention to details and follow-through. It has not suffered from a lack of vision, nor a lack of enthusiasm from paddlers, climbers, hikers and mountain bikers.

Mecklenburg County ought to protect taxpayers, yes. But taxpayers own the land. They are in this deal to the tune of $7 million in "service" payments already. This ought to be seen as an opportunity.

- posted by Mary Schulken


Anonymous said...

OK, Mary. I'll play along.

What is your estimate of annual operating costs for the Whitewater Center, assuming the service debt obligation goes away? Annual revenue stream from operations? Does the county continue to directly staff and operate the restaurant and gift shop, or is that outsourced? On what terms?

Does anyone have a handle on the cost to maintain the plant? Are we coming up on some big refirb cost for the pumps, for example?

And are we certain that draining the thing, selling the rafts, and calling is a skate park would've be a better deal?


alysse said...

The Whitewater Center is one of the few things in Charlotte, the brings character. It can pay for itself in the long term. Losing it would mean a big loss for the community. I never biked or rafted before and now I am an avid fan. It is a great place to build skills that last a lifetime. I would love to see it stay as a non profit as I think that way it will keep its character and vision. The problem is most people don't even know it is there. They just need some better marketing as a destination and maybe a spa for the sore muscles I get from having fun all day.
To expect it to make a profit in under three years minimum is foolish. You have to change a regions mindset and give it a chance to become part of the community.

It's Me said...

I just hope this thing DOES end up paying off in the long run, but will it really?

Taxpayers are already on the hook for another few years. If it's not making a profit by then, should we really keep it?

Keep in mind, there are other projects we have to finish as well (i.e. - NASCAR HOF, baseball in CC and the 485 loop!)

The County is already in enough debt and the state is in a 2 billion dollar debt.

Things we should think about.

Life as I see it

Anonymous said...

Why should my tax dollars finance someone's hobby? Go play on your own dime. The only people who can afford to and even want to use this turd are the 20 something "we're soooo bored" uptown hipsters who value form over function. Everyone is so concerned with making Charlotte hip and cool. How about making Charlotte actually operate smoothly. Better public transportation, more police, roads that actually *gasp* can accommodate the traffic. Those are things we actually need.

Anonymous said...


So Govt wasn't "shrewd" enough along with your paper the first time we committed millions of "not your money" to this private enterprise and now that you took this long to figure out this was not going to be a successful business model, you are trying to make us believe that the same "genius's" that got us into this mess will be smart enough to come up with an alternative "shrewd deal #2"? Well, I guess that settles that. And we wonder why Meck County is going "broke"?