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County's cost for tourism study: $95K

York County is spending nearly $100,000 to study whether it needs an agriculture and tourism center.

The study will determine possible uses for a multi-use equestrian and agricultural center, where to put it and how to find the money needed for the facility, county officials say. Some have said county-owned Knights Stadium in Fort Mill could be a good location for a center after the minor league team's expected move to Charlotte in the next few years. This feasibility study should tell the county if that's a good fit.

The $95,000 needed for the study was originally slated to come from hospitality tax funds when the York County Council approved giving $25,000 to $100,000 for the study in September. But the council agreed last week to use contingency funds instead. The law isn't clear on whether the hospitality tax, collected in area restaurants, could be used for this type of research, said Bennish Brown, executive director of York County Visitor's Bureau.

The study should eliminate guesswork in determining the need for this facility, Brown said.

Representatives from local 4-H, agricultural and equestrian groups researched a facility such as this for more than a year.

"The grass-roots community in York County has said they see an untapped tourism resource for the county that could bring in visitors, tourism dollars and create jobs," Brown said.

Betty Rankin, a horse owner and land preservationist who has been involved in planning committees for the center, said she is ecstatic the county is moving forward with this study.

"This is a way to get people to come to this county for a unique experience embracing the rural roots of the area," Rankin said. "It would provide an opportunity for our agricultural community to band together and showcase what we have."

The facility could house rodeos, equestrian events, livestock shows, county fair events and maybe even bring new festivals, events and shows, Brown said.

Building a multi-use center

The first step is to decide if there is a viable market for the center, York County Councilman Rick Lee said. Then, the county can determine how to take advantage of it.

"Having no money for additional capital projects could cause an interesting dilemma," Lee said. "I think it's early to talk how or what, if anything, would come out of the study."

The firms, Crossroads Consulting Services from Florida and gh2 Gralla Architects from Oklahoma, want to talk to stakeholder groups across the county about the facility, and Brown said they aren't sure how long that will take.

The county asked for the study to be complete in 60 days, Brown said.

Lee said he was taken aback by how much the study would cost, but said the research is needed to determine if they will move forward with the facility. The council voted unanimously to approve spending $95,000 on the study.

"The goal is to generate tourism dollars, and this is one area where agri-tourism activity could take place," Lee said. "We don't have people on staff that could do that research. We've done some studies at fairly low cost and got what we paid for. It better be a good study."

Council Chairman Buddy Motz said he thinks the study and possible facility will benefit the county.

"The study looks comprehensive," he said. "We need the data to move forward. It didn't just come up all of a sudden. It's something we've been working on for four to five years."

The next steps haven't been determined, Brown said.

"Initially, we wanted to see if York County could manage this type of facility and seek professional guidance on how to fund it -- private, public or both," he said.

Rankin said agreeing to the study is a positive move for the county.

"Without some type of commitment by the government, we'll lose touch with the roots of the past," Rankin said. "This is a good way to showcase our heritage in a futuristic way."

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