Wilmington is blessed with natural beauty, and our predecessors had the foresight to preserve and develop land for athletic competitions, recreational activities, family outings and simple escapes for quiet contemplation.
But population growth has created a significant need for additional park space and improvements to existing recreational facilities. Within the city, the list of needed new park facilities and improvements totals $60 million.
If approved, the 2016 City of Wilmington Parks Bond will allow us to meet more than half of those needs in a reasonable amount of time.
Why does a business organization like the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce care about parks? For the same reason that we care about health care, crime, education, transportation and the environment.
Great communities aren’t made through a narrow focus. The entire mix of attributes that contribute to quality of life and attracting businesses must be considered to develop a prominent community.
The 2016 parks bond will provide $38 million to complete projects, ranging from:
- The development of the North Waterfront Park
- New soccer fields
- Completion of Phase II at Olsen Park, including new tennis and pickleball courts
- The expansion of the MLK Center
- Improvements at the Municipal Golf Course
A portion - $7.6 million - of the $38 million will be derived from existing funds, with the remaining $30.4 million coming from bond funds.
A riverfront park, like the proposed North Waterfront Park, is a long-supported goal of the Wilmington chamber and our flagship program, Cape Fear Future. The design for the North Waterfront Park by Allen Davis, former urban designer for the City of Wilmington, has been commended for being a beautiful centerpiece attraction that will include a performance stage capable of attracting A-list talent, splash plaza, great lawns, children’s play area, cafés, public art and gardens.
A signature park for Wilmington, such as those enjoyed by other communities like Asheville, Charleston and Savannah, will attract thousands each year to our downtown, helping support businesses and generate more revenues through tourism. Building Waterfront Park will provide direct revenue to the city, and similar parks in other cities have been very successful.
Perhaps more important is the benefit the passage of the parks bond will provide to our children. Over 3,000 city youth play soccer and another 800 or more play lacrosse. There is a field deficit that interferes with play and scheduling, which will be addressed through the creation of additional multi-purpose rectangular fields and support facilities. The fields can be used for local league play and tournament play that draws teams from outside the region, another economic generator.
Quality parks and athletic and recreational facilities are sought-after amenities by Wilmington families, as well as businesses looking to locate to the area. Recent surveys and focus groups held during the city’s comprehensive planning discussions indicated strong support for improvements to, and expansion of, park facilities. Parks ranked number three on the list of priorities residents would like to see addressed.
The last parks bond by the city was approved by voters a decade ago, a longer time period between bonds than most communities our size. Parks and facilities such as the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, JEL Wade Park, Olsen Park, Archie Blue Park, Empie Park tennis courts and others were all made possible by the 2006 parks bond. These improvements are highly utilized, provide a needed service to residents and visitors and have proven to be a good investment.
The Board of Directors of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce encourages citizens to make a similar investment in the future of our city and vote in support of the 2016 parks bond on Nov. 8.
With expected population growth of 50 percent over the next 20 years, the deficit in athletic fields and recreational space will only get worse. Now is the time to make these improvements, advance our quality of life, make us more attractive to businesses and skilled workforce and develop a signature waterfront park that can be a centerpiece for our community for decades to come.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long-term community and business interests.