April 3, 2014

Lake Wylie continues push for new park

Lake Wylie residents poured into a York County Council workshop on hospitality tax funding Thursday night to ask for a new park on 50 acres.

Lake Wylie residents filled a conference room and the ears of the York County Council Thursday night with a common message: Give us a chance to make a Crowders Creek park happen.

“All we’ve ever asked for is a shot to do something with money generated in our area,” said former County Councilman Tom Smith, who now heads an effort for a Lake Wylie Sports Commission.

About 50 people attended a hospitality tax workshop to support building a new park on 50 county-owned acres along Crowders Creek that was set aside as part of a 2007 planned development agreement, and almost 20 acres more beside it. Then-Councilman Smith worked with landowners to develop a master plan for more than 2,000 acres on Crowders and Allison creeks.

Now Smith is continuing the push to build a park in one of the county’s fastest-growing areas.

“That tax will be a very important player for a park in the Lake Wylie area for facilities we just don’t have,” Smith said of the hospitality tax money, a revenue source being evaluated by the County Council to prioritize what projects it should pay for. “The hospitality tax is our only venue, our only way to make this thing work.”

Hospitality tax money comes from a 2 percent charge on food and beverages in unincorporated areas of the county. The money must be used on tourism-generating projects. The Fort Mill area near Carowinds and the restaurants of Lake Wylie bring in the largest share of those taxes.

Council members are hammering out a new hospitality tax ordinance, which would set sports facilities as a top priority for funding. The existing draft of that proposed law notes such facilities must have self-sustaining operations and maintenance to qualify.

“That’s a critical distinction,” said county attorney Michael Kendree. “That needs to have projections. That needs an operations plan. That can’t just be something that’s referenced, but some demonstrable proof that they’ll be able to sustain it.”

Council members differed on what “self-sustaining” means.

“It creates a big impact on the local economy, just about anywhere you would do this,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson. Some “ongoing residual amount” might be needed in future years for maintenance, he said.

Councilman Michael Johnson doesn’t want to “prop up” projects at any amount if they can’t fully sustain themselves after the initial hospitality tax investment.

“We weren’t just going to throw money down a well,” he said.

The proposed Lake Wylie sports commission has partnerships with Lake Wylie Athletic Association, the Clover school district and the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce – all groups committed to a park partnership.

Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, said the new commission would answer questions about management and maintenance of the park. It would make grants possible and could keep the county from having to form a parks and recreation department just to open the facility – a reservation expressed by Council.

“It allows for some structure to move forward,” Bromfield said. “It’s reaching out to respond to what the county wanted.”

Doug McSpadden owns McSpadden Custom Homes in Lake Wylie and the Lake Wylie Professional Center, home to a half-dozen more businesses. He sees an opportunity to invest in Lake Wylie.

“We invested heavily in Lake Wylie,” McSpadden said. “We are fully expecting to see huge returns and are seeing that. But in evaluating Lake Wylie, there’s one thing missing.”

Councilman Bump Roddey heads the council subcommittee evaluating the park proposal. He promised Lake Wylie residents the park will “get every consideration possible.”

“I don’t know where you’re going from here,” Councilman Curwood Chappell told residents, “but from start to here, you’ve done a great job.”

Park planners estimate that a park with baseball and soccer fields, a canoe launch and walking trails like what’s proposed would generate more than $767,000 in new tax revenue. The Lake Wylie Athletic Association is committed to hosting annual tournaments at the park.

Austin Brothers, 9, and Tyler Brothers, 10, showed up in their new baseball uniforms Thursday night to support a Lake Wylie park. The brothers play in a Lake Wylie Athletic Association league at fields at Bethel Elementary School and in Newport.

They’d like to see something like Cherry Park at the Crowders Creek site.

“Probably more crowds, more people that would watch us,” Tyler said.

The youth players say they could see teams like theirs from other communities coming to play in large tournaments.

“If they had a better ballpark, yeah,” Tyler said. 

Development around the planned park could come soon. Earlier this year, Crescent Communities submitted two rezoning applications to develop almost 500 acres bordering the property as residential communities.

In 2012, the County Council approved spending $30,000 for planning and design work, which produced an estimate of $11.2 million to develop the park – a number council members and park planners agreed was too high. Smith and others said the park should be built for no more than half that cost.

Last summer, the county approved more than $14,000 for engineering work at the site.

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