Lake Wylie and Fort Mill are getting money for their sports complexes, as long as they can spend it in time.
York County Council voted Dec. 21 to approve $2.45 million for the York County Sports Complex on county-owned property on Crowders Creek. Council also approved more than $1.6 million for the Riverview Athletic Complex in Fort Mill.
Both amounts were half of what project planners asked for through county hospitality tax money.
The approvals also came with a new condition.
The Fort Mill site has 12 months to be complete or under construction, or the county can withdraw its funding or call for a new vote. The Lake Wylie site has 18 months from the point a public vote passes – that requirement already was on the table for council – to pay for remaining construction and maintenance costs.
“We have millions of dollars kind of hanging out there,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, who motioned for the time limits. “I don’t want this money hanging out there. I want them to either move forward, or not move forward.”
Both projects will be funded through the county hospitality tax, a 2 percent charge on food and drink in unincorporated areas. Funds must be spent on tourism-generating projects.
The council already approved $1 million for an aquatic center addition in Lake Wylie earlier this year. Several more capital requests have been made or are expected in the coming year.
“You just can’t tie up (Htax) funds indefinitely,” Johnson said.
Neither approval was unanimous.
“I believe we need to spend money in Fort Mill,” said Councilwoman Christi Cox, who voted against both. “I don’t believe we need to spend money that’s going to create more traffic right there with this situation. It’s a tremendous problem.”
Cox argued hospitality tax money can, and should, be spent on roads. Her issue wasn’t the $1.6 million price tag in Fort Mill.
“We need to spend a whole lot more than that,” she said. “We need to do Williams Road. We need to do Hensley Road. We need to do turning lanes. We need to widen Dobys Bridge Road. Do we need to build a sports complex that’s going to attract more people to come down there? That’s not what people are saying they want.”
The process for hospitality tax projects is that a group or organization comes in with a specific request. The Fort Mill School District did that at Riverview, and a citizen group led by Lake Wylie Athletic Association did that for the sports complex there.
Cost said no one is going to ask for road repairs, but she argued that council still should look at the need.
“The process is messed up,” she said. “We need to fix it.”
Cox sees the same issue in Lake Wylie.
“We do need to spend the money in Clover, on (S.C.) 557 to prevent fatalities so our sheriff is not having to report those,” she said.
Following a failed move to defer decisions on the sports complexes, Councilman Bruce Henderson expressed concern that the group was dragging its feet bringing roads into the conversation.
“I for one am just totally puzzled as to folks that can change their mind on a dime, so consistently,” he said. “I don’t know what to even say.”
Council restructured a committee more than a year ago to take a closer look at hospitality tax collection and spending. Council charged that group with a list of possible items for consideration, sports facilities aimed at tournament plan topping the list.
“I don’t know if we can say we’re going to do anything any more and stick to it,” Henderson said.
The hospitality tax committee recommended spending the full amounts requested for both sports complexes, or twice what council approved Dec. 21. Council members had concerns with allocating about half of what remains in a hospitality tax fund that brings in about $2 million annually.
“I think we should be talking about two at the same time,” Councilman Chad Williams said of the projects. “I think we should be talking about all 10 at the same time.”
Williams doesn’t like the first-come, first-served nature of spending thus far, but he said the applicants aren’t the ones to blame. The county needs “some process to look at it all” moving forward, he said.
“The problem is both these applicants have done everything we’ve asked for for a year and a half,” Williams said.
Chairman Britt Blackwell had mixed feelings about both projects. He believes the Fort Mill School District and town should have worked better together on the Riverview site, which sits in town limits just beside Riverview Elementary School. Blackwell voted for the project.
“I’m going to put faith in the committee and support their due diligence,” he said.
In Lake Wylie, Blackwell applauded the community effort to put forth a park plan before voting against it.
“This is an unincorporated area, so it meets the need the county is there for,” he said. “It’s been talked about for three years.”
His problem with that site stems from the $1 million allocated for the swim facility. The park plan would have to decrease by that same amount before Blackwell said he would support it.
“The fund is getting depleted pretty fast,” he said. “We did the swimming pool for $1 million that I thought was a complete mistake. That should have been something between the school district and the Y, and the county should not have in any way gotten involved.”
The lack of a hotel or motel in Lake Wylie concerns him, too.
Both the Fort Mill and Lake Wylie sites will have large multipurpose fields for tournament play on weekends. Planners estimate millions in annual revenue from guests who come in to compete or watch.
When tournaments aren’t being held, the school district will use the Fort Mill fields and Lake Wylie recreation programs the fields on Crowders Creek. The Lake Wylie plan also includes baseball or softball fields.
The Fort Mill School District estimates the Riverview project will cost $3.2 million. The Lake Wylie site will cost about $8 million, and still is contingent on a public vote to set up a special tax district similar to the one used for fire protection in Lake Wylie.
Click here to read about some of the comments local residents made to York County Council about the plan to use hospitality tax money to build more sports facilities.