Wendell is rightfully proud of its parks and recreation program. Hundreds of children every year play basketball, baseball, softball and our personal favorite – Tball. Over time, the number of children participating has grown, even to the point that some children from other towns choose to pay the out of town rate to play in Wendell.
So the idea of looking at the expansion of parks and recreation facilities makes sense. And town leaders are doing just that.
The town is also looking at the possibility of expanding its communications infrastructure in downtown through the creation of a WiFi network downtown and the extension of high-speed fiber lines that will allow users to access much more information as a much greater speed than is now possible.
Mayor Tim Hinnant points out correctly that the town may not be able to afford to do all that at once.
And while Hinnant has started floating the idea of a bond issue for the town, these two efforts – park expansion and telecommunications improvements – would likely be paid for with other funds.
At a meeting last week, commissioners seemed more interested in pursuing the parks expansion and leaving the other work for later.
We would love to see them revisit that idea. While Parks and Recreation programs are nice, the town’s long-term future will rely much more significantly on attracting and retaining a strong business base. Pursuing the telecommunications infrastructure now – rather than putting it off – has the potential to benefit many more people over a longer period of time than adding ball fields and restrooms at the town’s signature park. As Wendell Falls continues to develop, the competition for businesses between downtown Wendell and the Wendell Falls neighborhood will intensify. Now is the time to begin putting in the infrastructure that will keep the downtown viable and competitive with other business clusters.
Parks have been touted as an economic development tool. And it’s true that tournaments which bring teams and families from outside Wendell here to play for a weekend will boost sales revenue, particurly for restaurants and convenience stores.
But the ecoomic impact of improved connectivity in the downtown promises a much greater return on the investment over time and for many more businesses, including many that are locally owned and operated.
The town has the benefit of having two sound options for where to spend its money. But town leaders would be doing everyone a greater service if it chooses to pursue infrastructure over ball fields right now.