In a measure included as part of the Raleigh City Council’s consent agenda this evening, the long-planned Falls Whitewater Park would lose the $150,000 earmarked for the project in 2005 as part of a plan that allocates funds from the city and county’s occupancy and food and beverage taxes. And while one city official seems unapologetic about the potential cut, advocates of the park plan say they were caught off guard by the news.
When asked if the cut was anticipated, city chief of staff Lou Buonpane told the INDY Friday, “Well, I guess that depends on by who.” He added that the recommendation to terminate the funding was a result of the park’s failure to meet “terms” spelled out in the 2005 agreement—inadequate food and beverage revenues, a lack of required matching funds, and/or “if the receiving entities do not meet the elements of the agreement.”
“If you had eleven years and didn’t do what you said you were going to do, should you still be in the revenue stream?” he asks.
Elizabeth Gardner, president of the Falls Whitewater Park Committee and a WRAL meteorologist, says that over the project’s decade-plus life, this is not the first time the $150,000 has been threatened. But she says she found the timing of the move—and the fact that nobody has informed her committee about it (she was informed about the consent-agenda item by the INDY)—“kind of strange,” given the fact that city council member Bonner Gaylord told her he was planning on suggesting to the rest of the board that the city fund the project to the tune of $1.5 million at tonight’s meeting.
The park—a dream to bring a whitewater destination to the Neuse River below the Falls Lake dam—has been a work in progress for more than a decade. To date, the city has invested $300,000 in it, including $100,000 in funds approved in January to pay for permitting.
In 2010, a preliminary conceptual plan estimated the cost of the project at just under $3 million, but the price tag didn’t seem to deter the council, which approved a formal plan for the park that was developed the following year.
Gardner says she disagrees with Buonpane’s statement regarding the time it has taken to see the project come to fruition. Between the economic downturn, when “nobody was spending money on anything,” to a split vote in 2014 that, had it passed, would have “put the whole thing on a parks bond,” the lack of significant progress has not been self-inflicted, she argues.
“In a perfect world, they would put the whole thing on the parks bond and be done with it,” Gardner says. “We really just want the city to fund it, but because it’s not a ball field—it’s non-traditional—they have not been willing to pull the trigger. With everything that’s happened, normal people probably would have given up, but we really think this is going to be a wonderful amenity.”
Should Gaylord convince the council to spend $1.5 million on the project, advocates hope the county would throw in $1 million. Committee members would then raise the difference, about $1 million.
“We believe in this that much,” Gardner says.
Whether council members—and their counterparts on the county commission—do, too, remains to be seen.