Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill recreation projects considered for York County funding

The York County Council is considering including hundreds of thousands of dollars for local recreation projects when it allocates money from the hospitality tax fund.

Also included could be money for a 50-acre county park along Crowders Creek in the Lake Wylie area.

At their meetings Dec. 5 and Dec. 19, council members saw the latest figures for hospitality tax funds, collected in unincorporated areas of Fort Mill Township and other parts of the county, including Lake Wylie. The tax, collected on prepared meals and hotel rooms, is designed to promote tourism. Already approved for 2012 were four projects – one each for a new Clover park, a county museum planetarium, Catawba cultural preservation project and county wayfinding signage – totaling $725,386.

At the Dec. 19 meeting Tom Spratt, chairman of the Hospitality Tax Committee and a new member of the Fort Mill Town Council, recommended eight more projects totaling $532,865. Items range from $300,000 for the Carolina Thread Trail and $87,124 for the Catawba Pow Wow to $20,000 for Fort Mill’s S.C. Strawberry Festival and just more than $5,000 each for a York historical markers project and an agriculture and art tour.

The Carolina Thread Trail project would go toward 10.7 miles of trail connecting Baxter Village and the Anne Springs Close Greenway to Riverwalk in Rock Hill.

What wasn’t on the list is funding for the 50 acres near Crowders Creek already owned by the county. Council already approved $30,000 for design planning, with possible uses including fields for baseball, softball, soccer or other field sports. Organizers of that effort said they wouldn’t be ready to apply for hospitality tax funding by the October 2011 deadline that brought the current list, but hoped to have an application ready by the March 2012 deadline.

Planners of the Lake Wylie park are looking at a $2 million facility, with hospitality funds a major income source. County leaders say the Lake Wylie property is part of a larger, countywide focus on park and recreation space.

“We’re going to need to start coordinating better so that we look at it with more of a big picture,” County Manager Jim Baker said.

Baker told council in December that along with the Crowders Creek property, staff is in discussion with Duke Energy on additions to the Allison Creek Access Area to make it “more like what we have at Ebenezer” Park in Rock Hill. That facility includes camping, playgrounds and restrooms.

Access to the water also is a focus for recreation needs in Fort Mill.

Bennish Brown, executive director of the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that a comprehensive, ongoing study of county recreation needs found river or lake access to be a top priority in Fort Mill. In Lake Wylie, the top needs were trails, picnic/playground park space, soccer fields, a swimming pool/water park and sports fields. The study relied on citizen and expert input, using information from as far back as 1993 and six separate studies from 2005 to 2011.

“The views and responses of citizens over the past 18 years have remained almost 100 percent consistent in all of the studies that have taken place,” Brown told council. “You will see walking and jogging paths, parks and open space and hiking trails and greenways at the top of every survey.”

Included were about 160 citizen responses from the December 2010 recreational needs assessment survey in Lake Wylie, conducted by Brown’s group. A 2008 Clover study also showed unmet needs of a swim center, soccer and baseball fields. The study outlined to council likely will include many of the same themes as the commissioned study of the Crowders Creek property, which is forthcoming.

“They’ll make sure that it is best used for that particular community,” Brown said of the Crowders Creek site.

Council hopes that issues like agritourism and park space will be something that can enhance the quality of life in York County through hospitality tax money.

“The life the citizens have is real important and needs a lot of focus,” Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said.

Each year, council distributes part of its hospitality tax money to the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau for use in its annual operational and marketing budget, leaving the remaining funds available for projects submitted during the year. The volunteer Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee sorts through those applications and recommends projects for funding.

If the latest projects are approved, an overall $750,000 budget amendment for 2012 will be applied for the hospitality tax fund. The estimated balance as of June 30, 2012 will be $3,235,991. Along with the Crowders Creek site, future plans for an agritourism facility likely will rely heavily on the tax money.