Fort Mill Times

Recreation needs focus of study for Fort Mill, York County

Early in the new year, Brown Simpson expects to have a better handle on recreation needs in Fort Mill – which isn’t to say he’ll have immediate answers.

“We’ve got a lot of pressing needs in Fort Mill,” said Simpson, parks and recreation director for the town.

The town will work with Clemson University on a recreation program and facility needs study in December. The study will take about a month to complete, Simpson said. It will include planning for the end of a lease on the recreation complex on Tom Hall Street in a little more than five years. It will plan for 28 acres set aside for a park in the Waterside on the Catawba subdivision.

Simpson told colleagues from across the county Oct. 21 that for “forever,” recreation needs in Fort Mill were met by the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex and the Springs family.

“Those days are over with now,” Simpson said.

Now the town is taking up more league play and similar recreation duties as the Anne Springs Close Greenway focuses more on outdoor recreation and activities on its property.

The county hospitality tax advisory committee brought in recreation stakeholders Tuesday, including every recreation department and school board in the county along with Winthrop University athletics staff. Issues discussed included the cost of synthetic versus natural turf, candidates for the next women’s sport at Winthrop, and whether field hockey will join lacrosse as the next big wave in York County.

“These sports tend to come down,” said Tom Hickman, Winthrop athletic director.

The advisory committee is charged with recommending hospitality tax spending to York County Council. Where past groups have evaluated proposals as they come, the group formed earlier this year wants to create a plan that steers spending.

“We would like to give a perspective of what this county needs as a whole,” said Watts Huckabee, advisory group chairman. “We’re going to project a vision for the county.”

The hospitality tax brings in about $1.8 million annually, and has a little less than $4 million available. While leaders looked for consensus from the meeting, areas are taking on varying challenges in York County. In Fort Mill it’s explosive population growth and weaning off of long-time private recreation assets toward public ones. In Clover it’s promoting the New Centre Park, paid for through hospitality funds.

In Rock Hill, where sports tourism is a $20 million business, the issue is finding niche sports like cycling, where regional and national events pour money into local restaurants and hotels.

“Sports tourism is big business,” said John Taylor, director of Rock Hill Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “I don’t know that we’re always working together.”

Organizers in Lake Wylie want a park on 50 acres owned by the county. They want hospitality money – a 2 percent tax on food in unincorporated areas that largely comes from the Carowinds area of Fort Mill and Lake Wylie – to foot the bill. They say a future recreation complex in Fort Mill could use the same route for funding.

While the hospitality tax is geared toward tourism, county experts say communities can’t afford to overlook recreation when deciding how to spend dollars.

“Don’t forget about your own kids,” said Moe Bell, CEO of Upper Palmetto YMCA.

Taylor, despite his pursuit of niche market events due to a proliferation of ball fields in the region, said a community’s residents can’t be forgotten in favor of bringing in tourism dollars.

“Every community needs ballfields,” Taylor said. “Every community needs to have something for their children to do.”

Simpson said recreation needs in Fort Mill, already near tapping out field space, is only going to become a more pressing issue. He already partners with most every school that has athletic space, and the opening of 54 acres at the new Riverview Elementary School in January will help with its four multi-purpose fields. Yet as more residents move in, more questions will need answers.

Which he hopes to begin tackling with the coming study.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Simpson said.