Sunday, August 7, 2022

Hampton still floating idea for water park, just not for this year

HAMPTON — As with many new ideas, the question of “if” often plays a major role in the decision to move forward.

That is the case for the proposed floating water park the City of Hampton has been discussing for Buckroe Beach. While the project won’t happen this year, that doesn’t mean it’s dead in the water.

Robin McCormick, the communications strategist for the city, said, “What I heard at City Council meetings was ‘We would like to do this if …’”

There are three main ifs:

  1. If the city can decide who would operate the park.
  2. If the entrance fees are affordable.
  3. If the parking situation at Buckroe Beach can be resolved.

“The first two are shorter-term (factors),” McCormick said.

Who would manage the park might be the toughest of the three to determine. Some early discussions have mentioned Hampton’s parks and recreation department running it.

If it’s decided not to go that route, the city would have to release a request for proposal to find an operator of the park.

“We have a public procurement process we would follow that would seek bids from anyone interested in managing the park,” McCormick said.

And that’s where there are a lot of unknowns, but it could also be an advantage.

“Anyone could respond to that — someone that runs a similar park and has experience with the equipment or a local entity,” she said. “The great thing about issuing a public request for proposals is that you don’t really know what the options are until you ask.”

In May 2017, the City Council voted unanimously for the $180,000 park, which would include a lifeguard tower, a slide, a bridge and a bounce dome.

But in March of this year, the council split (with Mayor Donnie Tuck abstaining) on a vote about who would manage the water park.

Of course, working through that process can be time-consuming, which was another factor in the decision to not go ahead with the park for this summer.

McCormick said the city couldn’t resolve all the issues and then buy and install the park in time.

As for the admission, one proposal was for $10-$15 per hour per person, depending on who is the operator.

At a presentation given to the City Council in March, it was noted the cost probably would be higher if an outside entity managed the park. Comments at public hearings and on social media showed many residents thought that was too high a cost, especially for families with multiple children.

A rendering of the proposed water park. (City of Hampton)

In regard to the parking, that’s been a problem at Buckroe Beach for a number of years, especially on weekends in the summer. Add in a water park, which would be near the Buckroe Fishing Pier, and it gets even worse.

“Parking at Buckroe Beach is a longer-term issue, and we have to tackle that whether or not we add the water park,” McCormick said. “We tried a pilot shuttle last year, and we will continue that free option this year to see if that alleviates the crunch on the busy weekends.”

As City Manager Mary Bunting said on Hampton’s website: “As we work to bring additional amenities back to the beach, we also recognize the importance of balancing the needs of the residents in the area with the visitors, and have been working on short- and long-term plans to address the parking challenges that occur each summer.”

Public comments also mentioned the abundance of jellyfish in the area of the proposed park, safety issues and should this project even be a priority.

“The devil is always in the details, but we have some time to work those out,” McCormick said. “People are very supportive about activities for young people, boosting tourism, and creating economic activity in Buckroe generally. But of course that has to be balanced with the needs and desires of residents.”

John Mangalonzohttp://wydaily.com
John Mangalonzo (john@localdailymedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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