Enquirer Herald

York’s Summerfest to get less promotional money from county

Some York County festivals will have a harder time getting promotional funds to grow their events.

The county hospitality tax advisory committee will present a new application process to York County Council as early as Nov. 2, outlining the rules for making grant requests. The application puts more stringent requirements on festivals to prove their economic worth in unincorporated parts of the county.

The hospitality tax comes from a 2 percent charge on food and drink in unincorporated areas. Yet many festivals take place in town or city limits, often where a municipal hospitality tax is available, too.

“They have their own Htax,” said advisory group member Brenda Robbins. “They’re double dipping is what they are.”

Discussion has been ongoing for months as to what role the county group should have promoting municipal events. In May, Chairman Watts Huckabee said festivals are good for the county, but not necessarily the tax revenue, and he’d “bet within two years we won’t be funding any of this.”

The group recommended funding all the festivals that applied for marketing money this spring, but at lower than requested amounts for many of them. The new application process could prove even tighter.

“There are going to be some disappointed people next year,” said Hannah Davis, who led the application revision process.

The group is putting more money than ever into capital projects. Council members approved $1 million for a pool facility in Lake Wylie, and has decisions pending on $4.9 million for a Lake Wylie park and $3.2 million for multipurpose fields in Fort Mill.

A film studio proposal in Rock Hill already has a $1 million request in, and expected requests could come next year for an agritourism facility and NarroWay Productions expansion.

The hospitality tax group still will spend money on marketing, but likely will focus on new events or organizations serving the entire county or unincorporated areas specifically. In recent years, it’s been many of the same events coming back for money annually.

This spring, the group recommended only $486,481 of the requested $531,554 in marketing money for 11 proposals. Several members expressed concern recommending that much. It was the first time the group recommended giving less than was requested by festivals.

The new process requires applicants to attend one of three mandatory sessions where the rules will be explained. Festivals must provide addresses of prior year vendors to determine how many came from unincorporated areas. Planners have to use a predetermined formula to show how many people attend and the economic impact specific to unincorporated areas.

Any score of 70 or higher will warrant a recommendation at that percentage. So, a festival that scores 80 would see an 80 percent recommendation of its request. Any score less than 70 will result in no funding.

The application will go online once council members approves it, with funding requests due in April.

Festival funding has been a large part of hospitality tax spending to date. The marketing money can be up to half what a festival spends on promotions.

The S.C. Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill received $20,000 this spring for fiscal year 2016, bringing its total from the hospitality tax fund to almost $116,000. Summerfest in York received almost $8,800 for a total of more than $77,000 to date. Those 2016 figures were down 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from what the festivals requested.

Come See Me and Christmasville in Rock Hill requested a combined $45,000 for 2016. They received $31,500. The events, to date, have received almost $150,000.

NarroWay growing?

The next round of hospitality tax funding could come with a request from NarroWay Productions in Fort Mill. NarroWay has expansion plans that could include a $1.5 million request to the county. Requests often are for a portion of overall capital costs.

Lora McCoy, theater manager, said Wednesday that NarroWay isn’t yet sharing details of their plans. They are “always looking” at expansion opportunities to improve their site, she said.

“Obviously we have a big vision for what we’re doing here,” McCoy said. “We have people coming in from all over the country, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

NarroWay would be one of the largest hospitality tax generators in the county based on the number of meals served annually, but doesn’t pay into the hospitality tax fund due to nonprofit status. The theater seats almost 350 people, though the lobby is small for that many people.

“There are definitely areas where we need to expand,” McCoy said.

A request is likely next year for an agritourism facility in York County, along with the NarroWay plan. Fields in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie are being considered now, with a film studio project on Catawba Indian land already submitted.