Visitors center proposal divides York County Council

adouglas@heraldonline.comMarch 18, 2013 

— The York County Council was divided on Monday night over whether to spend $1.5 million to build a new visitors center in Rock Hill’s Riverwalk development.

Convention and Visitors Bureau staff say relocating the visitors center services to Riverwalk from its leased space at York Technical College’s Baxter Hood Center on Anderson Road will benefit tourism in York County and be more cost-effective.

The CVB wants $400,000 from its own building fund account and county hospitality tax money to pay for the rest of the construction. The $1.5 million would come from York County’s hospitality tax reserve account, which totals about $3.3 million.

The hospitality tax is collected in the county’s unincorporated areas as a 2 percent charge on prepared food and non-alcoholic beverages.

At least two York County Council members – Bruce Henderson and Michael Johnson – questioned using $1.5 million in hospitality tax money to build on the Riverwalk site where land is $250,000 per acre.

About 80 percent of the county’s hospitality tax money comes from Henderson’s and Johnson’s districts, which include Fort Mill, Lake Wylie and Tega Cay.

“Fairness should be the rule of the day,” Henderson said.

Although some of the hospitality tax money comes from visitors, he said, a large portion of the tax money is paid by residents of Fort Mill, Lake Wylie and Tega Cay who should be “rewarded” at some point.

Since 2000, the CVB has operated its offices and visitors center in Rock Hill in three locations.

The CVB has considered moving into the Fort Mill area at least three times, including an offer to join S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the state’s welcome center along Interstate 77.

In June 2011, the CVB considered leasing space in a new building overlooking Rock Hill’s Giordana Velodrome in Riverwalk but found the space would not be ideal.

The proposed $1.9 million visitors center near Interstate 77 would see more traffic and serve more tourists than in its location on Anderson Road, supporters say.

The CVB’s use of the county’s $1.5 million is highly rated by the county’s hospitality tax advisory committee, said Jon Percival, member of the volunteer panel that fields requests for using the tax dollars.

There’s competition for the county’s hospitality tax money for other capital projects, he said, but the CVB’s request is the first formal application this year.

At a county council meeting in February, supporters asked council members to consider using millions in hospitality tax money to build a 50-acre park in Lake Wylie at Crowders Creek.

On Monday, the council did not take a vote on the CVB’s visitor center request.

Chairman Britt Blackwell suggested that the request be vetted in a council committee before council members cast an “up or down” vote. The committee could take up to 60 days to consider the plan, he said, giving council members time to do their “due diligence” in spending taxpayer money.

Waiting for the request to come back from committee could hinder the CVB’s plans, which hinge on buying the Riverwalk land, Johnson and Percival said.

If time is a constraint, Blackwell said, then the CVB could ask the council to vote in two weeks but he didn’t think the request would get unanimous support that quickly.

Councilman Curwood Chappell said he didn’t like the idea of the CVB “tying up” $1.5 million on a visitors center.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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