Fort Mill Times

Lake Wylie park plan in long line of requests for county money

Crowders Creek park planners will make their case for hospitality tax funding. But they’ll have to take their place in line.

The county advisory committee that recommends hospitality tax funding projects voted in favor of $1 million for an outdoor water park in Lake Wylie at its March meeting, a move finalized April 20 by York County Council.

The group, which meets monthly, was scheduled to hear a proposal this month or in May for 50 acres of county-owned property along Crowders Creek slated for a community park. However, the group has 11 marketing grants totaling $531,554 to consider first, so the park plan won’t be presented until at least the June 16 meeting.

Still, the committee could vote on a Fort Mill plan presented April 21 for $3.2 million for multipurpose athletic fields in Fort Mill.

Water park ‘anomaly’

The water park plan, which includes an aquatic center funded by Clover School District bonds, requires YMCA fundraising for an outside addition. It may serve as a test case for how capital funding requests are made.

“Council is certainly interested in not having that fast a timeline,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, who voted against the $1 million allocation for the $1.7 million Lake Wylie project.

The YMCA needed an answer almost immediately to meet the school district construction bidding process. The aquatic center is scheduled to open next year. The advisory group voted the same day school and YMCA leaders presented the plan.

“The project was going to go with or without the pool,” said Watts Huckabee, advisory group chairman. “That’s what made it difficult.”

There wasn’t even a formal application approved.

“The Y couldn’t have come to us any sooner, because there was no way for them to apply any sooner,” said Councilman Robert Winkler, who voted yes but said he had heartburn over approving the money so quickly.

Johnson said with more time, two or three months, to consider the water park plan, the vote may have gone smoother.

“You may have that be a unanimous vote,” he said. “It almost failed because of being so tight.”

Advisory group members agree they don’t want to rush future projects.

“This was an anomaly,” said member Hannah Davis.

Countywide planning

Moving forward, capital funding requests received by the advisory group will fall into two slots.

Requests received by June 30 will be scored and passed to the finance and operations committee by Oct. 1 each year, with County Council likely to make a decision by year’s end.

Requests received by after June 30 but before Dec. 31 will go to finance and operations by April 1, then County Council.

Advisory members say capital projects shouldn’t be recommended piecemeal. Stakeholders should work with the group to develop a shared vision to benefit all of York County.

“It’s almost irresponsible (to make recommendations) because we don’t have a plan for this county,” Huckabee said.

Council members agree collaboration is important. They aren’t sure so large a scope is practical.

“Sometimes it’s almost impossible to get people to work together,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson.

Johnson said getting all municipal, private and public stakeholders to agree is difficult, and to agree on money issues even more difficult.

“That should not be the death of a project,” he said.

The county began collecting a hospitality tax in 2007 charging 2 percent on food and drink in unincorporated areas. Through the most recent budget year, 35 percent of all money collected remained has not been allocated.

“Our goal is if we’re going to collect tax money,” Johnson said, “let’s spend tax money.”

‘Money to be had’

Hospitality tax totals about $1.8 million annually. Before the $1 million water park allocation, the county had a fund balance of $5.06 million. Council has the ability to bond up to $10 million.

“We can issue bonds,” Johnson said. “We can build these things.”

Recreation facilities are top priority for hospitality tax money set by Council. Money must be spent on tourism-generating projects. Johnson said it’s fine if a project like the Lake Wylie water park or Fort Mill fields serves residents, but the deciding factor for hospitality tax funding needs more.

“If people there use it Monday through Thursday that’s great,” he said. “Friday through Sunday it is a tourism-generating machine, and hopefully some during the week.”

Former councilman and current advisory group member Tom Smith, a long-time supporter of the Crowders Creek park, said the contribution to hospitality tax collection through local restaurants can’t be the only consideration.

“We would never finance anything,” he said.

Smith understands the need for a tourism aspect, but said league or other local play at facilities shouldn’t be discounted. If a facility is full when large tournaments aren’t being held, people are still eating in local restaurants.

“That’s who’s paying the hospitality tax,” Smith said. “It’s us.”

While the advisory group works out details for how projects should apply and be scored, members expect opportunities to refine the process, especially now as the water park plan moves forward.

“Everybody who wants money now is going to realize there is money to be had,” Johnson said. “You’re about to get a lot more applications.”

John Marks •  803-831-8166

Learn more:

The York County hospitality tax advisory committee has 11 funding requests to consider by next month, all for marketing or promotions of events. They include:

▪ $300,000 for a BMX Supercross event in Rock Hill, through the Rock Hill-York County Convention & Visitors Bureau

▪ $50,000 for the Arts Council of York County

▪ $44,266 for the Culture and Heritage Museums

▪ $25,000 for the South Carolina Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill

▪ $25,000 for the Come-See-Me Festival in Rock Hill

▪ $25,000 for the Olde English District

▪ $20,000 for Christmasville in Rock Hill

▪ $17,000 for the Old Town Amphitheater in Rock Hill

▪ $10,288 for Summerfest in York

▪ $8,000 for NarroWay Productions in Fort Mill

▪ $7,000 for the Ag+Art Tour through Clemson University