NarroWay Productions is looking at a $5 million land purchase to expand its theater ministry. But if any of that money is coming from county hospitality tax revenue, NarroWay is going to have to nail down some details.
The county hospitality tax advisory committee tabled discussion Tuesday afternoon on the new NarroWay proposal. The advisory committee takes capital funding and marketing requests and recommends which ones should get funding from the 2 percent county tax on food and drink in unincorporated areas.
Hospitality tax revenue must go to tourism-generating projects.
Originally, NarroWay applied for a smaller amount with plans to purchase the small strip mall beside its current theater on S.C. 51 North. Within weeks of pitching plans to the advisory committee, a new option emerged. Now, NarroWay is looking at almost 19 acres on U.S. 21, right across that highway from the theater.
“It could not be any more perfect for us,” said Yvonne Clark, NarroWay president.
NarroWay only recently paid off its existing facility and began looking into the new plan. Leaders there don’t know how much a building on the new site would cost, how big it would be or other key details the hospitality tax group needs to recommend for or against.
They do know, on their end, something needs to happen.
“To continue our current growth cycle, NarroWay has to expand as quickly as possible,” said Rebecca Martin, executive director.
NarroWay began in 1996. The Christian nonprofit performing Broadway-style shows started in an outdoor amphitheater on the former Heritage USA property before buying an old gambling warehouse in 2005, performing there the following year.
“We started with nothing,” Martin said. “Literally with nothing. We had a couple of boards we pulled some nails out of.”
Since, the outfit has grown into a significant tourist attraction. NarroWay brought in 32,000 visitors last year. The theater has spent $670,000 on marketing nationally and 93 percent of its marketing budget is aimed outside York County. Last year, 72 percent of ticket sales came from outside the county.
Advisory group member Hannah Davis said that last figure would be a major selling point for any group looking for hospitality tax money.
“What other venue in our county can say that?” she said.
Yet NarroWay hasn’t provided specifics on how much hospitality tax money those guests generate, using hospitality models the tax committee is trying to make more uniform among applicants. NarroWay serves meals at its shows, but using only those figures without accompanying estimates on guests staying overnight or dining elsewhere would make the $5 million request “not even justifiable,” said committee chair Watts Huckabee.
“That’s a big number,” said committee member Winston Martinez. “You’re going to have to aggressively partner with some groups on funding.”
Construction could be twice as expensive as the land, though selling the current property and building could help offset some funding costs. All those details and others would help the tax committee make its decision, which is why members voted to hold off until more information is available.
A past sticking point for some committee members is the fact NarroWay serves meals, but as a nonprofit doesn’t pay taxes on them. So the county doesn’t get hospitality tax revenue from NarroWay or, presumably, local restaurants that otherwise would serve guests before or after a show.
NarroWay leaders said they could commit to paying a per meal amount, whether called a tax or not, to the hospitality tax fund if it takes that point of contention off the table.
“We haven’t paid the hospitality tax because as a nonprofit, that wasn’t something we needed to do,” Martin said. “We really didn’t understand the concept of it.”
NarroWay is in the early stages of a funding campaign for the expansion. Leaders say they started out in an amphitheater thinking about thousands of guests, then tens of thousands when they moved to the current spot.
Now, they grow again.
“We really believe NarroWay has the opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands,” Clark said.