BALOG COLUMN: Mount Pleasant's park is a people magnet
Mount Pleasant's Memorial Waterfront Park is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.
At least that's what officials fear is happening.
The park by the pier, with the great view and the convenient location, has become a go-to destination for any number of groups and events. And that has some town leaders there a little concerned.
So they've devised a two-pronged approach that they think will reduce the number of groups using the park.
They're looking at increasing the permit fees. They also may reserve one Saturday a month for general public use of the green space, as Prentiss Findlay reported this week.
That means that even if the park's popularity continues to increase, it would still be blissfully open one weekend day a month.
Whether it works out that way remains to be seen.
Charleston officials have a fairly extensive fee structure in place for folks wanting to use Marion Square.
The park at Calhoun and King streets has been home to 68 events so far this year and is booked for nearly 200 days in 2012. Fees vary based on how many people will be at the park, whether it's a resident or non-resident applying for the permit, and how long the event lasts.
Mount Pleasant is on track to host 38 events at its park this year, but processing the applications is taking too much staff time.
The permit fee for the Memorial Waterfront Park grounds, just the park, will increase from its previous $50 to $100 to between $200 and $1,000, depending on the size of the group. This doesn't count the Cooper River Room, which goes for $400 to $3,500, or the Sweetgrass Pavilion, which can be had for a flat fee of $600 to $800.
Larry Schrecker, co-director of the increasingly popular Catch the Leprechaun 5K, said he can appreciate the town's need to increase the fees.
“Nothing's free,” he tells other race directors who call him looking to check out what they pay.
Because they rent the Sweetgrass Pavilion, “we're paying $700 anyway,” he said. Renting the pavilion is a better deal for them because they have access to the bathrooms.
If they rented only the park, he figures they'd have to spend $400 to $500 on portable toilets. So the pavilion makes more sense.
That said, if the race had to pay separate fees for the Pavilion and the park, “we might have to look around,” he said. But as of now, “we don't plan on moving our event.”
The real question with the user fee is what the town is trying to accomplish. If it's trying to keep people out or make them go elsewhere, officials might need to drive the price higher. If they're trying to trim the amount of events — and the work — this may not fill the bill. But if the extra money is for maintenance and park enhancements, then this might make a lot of sense.
Town Council is set to vote on the measure Tuesday night. If you think a walk in the park is no longer a walk in the park, you might want to go and let them know.
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at 937-5565.