Wendell Board looks to parks and rec to help downtown economy

mhankerson@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

— Commissioners are looking to provide more parks and recreation activities and programs for residents and residents-to-be in Wendell to help with the slow economic growth in the downtown area.

At their annual retreat on April 19, commissioners looked for ways to keep residents in the town, and with a citizen’s complaint regarding Wendell’s recreational options still fresh in commissioners’ minds, parks and rec became a major topic of consideration.

“I’ve always felt like we had a fantastic parks and rec department,” said Commissioner Ginna Gray. “I just feel like we need to offer ... a variety of things. It’s paid for by taxpayer money and I want there to be something for everyone.”

The board didn’t appove any new programs, right away, but began looking at new programs that would be cost efficient and fill a need for residents.

In January, Wendell resident Regina Harmon spoke to the board about some of the programs she felt the town was missing that were, in turn, affecting local business owners like herself. Harmon owns the new Wendell General Store and The Total Connection, a children’s newspaper.

Harmon suggested the town look at non-sports activities as an area to improve. She said surrounding towns have programs for students who are out of school and for seniors.

Her letter also asked the board to review some of the town’s policies that may have been making it difficult for some parks and recreation activities to thrive, like the community center’s alcohol policy that says when an event with alcohol is happening in the building, the park can’t be used by the public.

Last month, Gray requested the town consider revising its the alcohol policy at the community center.

“We need to find ways to create traffic in Wendell so we as a town and business can survive” Harmon wrote. She also wrote that she was providing the thoughts for the board to consider at their first retreat, which was in February.

Not looking for an overhaul

Gray said she’s always wanted to see what else the town can add to parks and rec programming but now, there is a sense of urgency with about a year before Wendell Falls begins selling homes. She said parks and rec will be key in attracting those new residents to spend their free time in town.

“I want more than the status quo,” she said. “There’s never a great time for stuff like that but there’s never a bad time either. When you want to make an adjustment, you just make it.”

Commissioners made it clear there was a renewed focus on bolstering already existing programs, but they recognize it might be some time before seeing changes.

Brinkley Wagstaff, the town’s current Parks and Recreation Director, will be retiring at the end of June. Some commissioners expressed concerned with expecting a new director to take on learning the ropes while bolstering the programming Wagstaff created and managed.

But Gray said it should be feasible. She said the board isn’t expecting any huge overhaul because the department doesn’t need it and it shouldn’t be difficult for a new director to offer insight about additional programs the town could offer.

“I don’t see the change in the director as something that’s a hurdle or a positive,” she said. “It just is what it is.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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