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Opinion

September 30, 2012

City shouldn’t rush into deal with Hawaiian Falls

GREENVILLE — Greenville is an ideal location for a big-time tourist attraction. Between Interstate 30, ample land available for development, and our close-but-not-too-close distance from Dallas, our city could attract lots of people from East Texas and the Metroplex who want to have a day of fun.

There’s just one problem. We don’t have a marquee tourist attraction to bring people here.

At first glance, the possibility of building a large, $11 million water park in Greenville seems to have potential to be a positive move for developing our city and attracting visitors — and their dollars — to this area.

If everything went as planned, the Hawaiian Falls water park could bring in more tax dollars and serve as a catalyst for turning Greenville into a serious destination for travelers. It could provide 200 jobs, albeit part-time, seasonal ones.

Rarely does everything go as planned, though, especially when business people have their eyes on public funds. That makes us skeptical of the proposal, which would involve our city going into debt to build a water park that would be operated and managed by a private company.

The proposal from Hawaiian Falls raises several questions that need to be explored thoroughly before the city even hints at signing up for this deal. Among them:

— Why is a city that claims to be strapped for money, and can’t even seem to find the cash to properly maintain its roads, thinking about spending millions upon millions of dollars on a water park? Where are our priorities?

— Hawaiian Falls has built similar parks in other locations. In these other cities, did the revenue estimates given in the early stages match the reality of what the city actually received? Or was it exaggerated as part of a sales pitch?

— If building a huge water park in Greenville is such a sure-fire, profitable business plan, why aren’t private banks lining up to fund it? Why do our public dollars have to be involved to construct it? Are taxpayers taking on the risk because a bank sees it as too risky?

All these questions, and many more, need to be explored before any decision is made. We’re skeptical about whether this particular proposal is the right one.

On the bright side, it’s good to see Greenville thinking big. We don’t mind the city making a gutsy, multimillion-dollar investment in the future so long as it’s done wisely, not by jumping on the first investment opportunity that falls into our lap.

If we had $11 million to spend on something — which may not be the case, if Greenville is as cash-strapped as the budget process made it sound — what would be the very best place to invest that money? Some kind of destination attraction could make sense, but we would prefer the initiative start with the city looking out for its own best interests and not with an outside business looking for profit.

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