Council Hears Pitch For $7 Million Northport Water Park
The Northport City Council heard the co-chair of its retail committee give a passionate pitch for a $7 million water park during its meeting Monday night.
District 5 Councilman Jeff Hogg has been a vocal proponent of new ideas for recruiting restaurants and retailers since his election in 2016, and said Monday night that the city council should use some of the funds raised by its recent sales tax increase to finance the construction of a family-oriented water park in the city limits.
The idea was spawned last month when Hogg posted a hypothetical question on social media asking constituents if they would support an effort to build such a park. The response was overwhelming and prompted Hogg to begin researching what such an undertaking would require.
Hogg presented that research Monday night and said a waterpark that featured four slides, a lazy river, indoor and outdoor splash pads and more would cost the city approximately $7 million.
The price tag may seem staggering, but Hogg pointed to Northport's 2019 decision to increase municipal sales tax by 1 cent on each dollar as justification if not a mandate to reinvest those funds back into the community on projects that will benefit the residents of Northport.
The sales tax increase is expected to generate around $5 million for the city each year, and roughly a quarter of that is specifically designated for investing in new entertainment options.
Hogg said by taking on a 20-year bond, the city could spend just $350,000 a year to finance the water park, which he said could be open by summer 2022 if the city council moves quickly to start the process.
"We have to be able to make tough decisions that not only benefit our residents today, but what will benefit us all in the future," Hogg said. "We have the opportunity to do something great here in our city and I'm asking all of you in attendance tonight along with our mayor and council to have an open mind to this concept. Just because it's new and unfamiliar, doesn't mean we hide from it."
The council chambers were packed with dozens of citizens in favor of Hogg's proposal and some who were on the fence or opposed to it. One resident said now is not the time to consider building a water park as it could facilitate the spread of coronavirus, and another questioned why the new tax revenue could not be spent building a public library or athletic complex.
By show of hands and public comment, though, the vast majority of residents in attendance supported the plan, including former mayor Bobby Herndon, who asked the mayor and council to at least invest as much time considering the pitch as Hogg did preparing it.
Hogg pointed to successful, government-operated water parks in Fayette, Alabama; Hartsville, South Carolina and Cullman, Alabama, all of which have a smaller population than Northport.
He said it is the council's responsibility to use revenues generated by the sales tax increase to provide quality of life increases for its citizens, and asked the council to genuinely consider the impact of doing so by financing a water park.
"It's no secret that our city is starving for sit-down restaurants and family entertainment. While our retail committee has worked tirelessly on attracting these things, we can't always rely on an outside developer to understand our city and our citizens' wants like we do here tonight," Hogg said. "What we can do, however, is control what we can control."
Neither Mayor Donna Aaron nor any of the other four Northport city councilmen opted to publicly respond to Hogg's presentation Monday night. Council president Jay Logan said the idea is still in its infancy, and the elected officials would need time to digest the information provided Monday before deciding where they stand on the issue.