Talk about a pitch with some late movement.
Just weeks ahead of a vote in Lake Wylie to set up a special tax district for recreation, another group is exploring a new baseball complex nearby that could have reason to be built even closer to the lake community. The project isn’t related to the sports complex a new tax district would fund along Crowders Creek. Some think maybe it should be.
“There may be some collaboration there,” said Watts Huckabee, chair of the county hospitality tax advisory committee.
Joe Hudak, former Winthrop University head baseball coach now with Piedmont Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Pride Baseball, is working with a team of investors on an $8 million baseball complex with dorms for hosting collegiate, high school and travel squad level tournaments. Hudak asked Tuesday for $2 million in hospitality tax revenue.
The plan involves 50 acres on S.C. 161 near Newport, close to Harper Road. It would have four artificial surface fields large enough to host high-level baseball, something Hudak says isn’t available elsewhere in the county. Tournaments would be held February through November each year. The for-profit arm of his group’s plan would pay operations for the facility, and allow for nonprofit faith-based summer squads to play locally.
In his two decades coaching collegiate baseball, Hudak said the site easily will get eight to 12 teams per large tournament during the warm months and teams coming from up north during the early season months, when it’s too cold there to play.
“It’ll be no problem getting them to play,” he said.
Part of putting the facility in Newport is the lower cost of land than in higher growth areas. But mainly, Hudak said, he understood the hospitality tax committee was interested in projects in unincorporated areas. The committee saw the plan differently. Because of its location, the nearest restaurants — who pay the 2 percent tax on food and drink if they are in unincorporated areas — would be in municipal Rock Hill or York.
Winston Martinez, who represents the Lake Wylie area on the tax committee, said there is a big difference putting fields in Newport where Hudak proposes and in Lake Wylie, where $2.45 million in hospitality tax money is coming for a new sports complex if voters approve a new special tax district Nov. 8.
All Lake Wylie restaurants pay the tax, since the area is unincorporated.
“It’s eight miles away from where you’re looking to build yours,” Martinez said. “There’s more economic impact in Lake Wylie.”
If Hudak’s group were to move its facility closer to Lake Wylie, group members said, it could capitalize on restaurants in that area. Or perhaps even work with the group planning the park along Crowders Creek, since baseball/softball fields already are in the works there.
Kevin Madden, county finance director, said location could be key in making the math work for a tax committee looking at economic impact to unincorporated area restaurants.
“If you were going to build (in Lake Wylie), you could have a lot more synergies,” he said.
A partnership with the ongoing Lake Wylie park could be a reach. Hudak said his group said it wasn’t familiar with that effort, and as a for-profit complex there could be issues tying in with the Lake Wylie plan relying on public money. Plus, the Lake Wylie decision is coming up quickly.
Hudak didn’t, however, rule out a site adjustment for his complex plan.
“We aren’t tied into this property,” he said. “We can look at other unincorporated areas.”
The other issue with having two parks so close is, both are relying on tournament play as a major funding source. Some tax committee members felt like there are enough hosting opportunities for both. David Williams, a member of the York County Economic Development Board, is a stakeholder with the Newport complex plan. He also coaches travel baseball, and said he’d like see more tournaments without having to travel into North Carolina.
“One of the places we’re missing the boat is with baseball,” he said.
Constant tournaments could be a windfall for the area, Williams said.
“There’s so much downtime, you’re going to find somewhere to go, somewhere to stay,” he said.
For the tax committee, the issue isn’t whether players and spectators will come, but where they will spend their money once they do, which gives them pause in Newport.
“The closest restaurant would be in York,” said committee member Jayne Scarborough.
As of this afternoon, Newport plan backers hadn’t contacted the Lake Wylie SportsPlex committee, which is meeting at 6:30 tonight at Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce on Latitude Lane.