Fort Mill Times

Lake Wylie park planners make play for tax money

Crowders Creek park plan in Lake Wylie.
Crowders Creek park plan in Lake Wylie. YORK COUNTY SPORTS COMPLEX COMMITTEE

The issue isn’t whether a new park will pump money into Lake Wylie’s economy. It’s whether the county will pump money into the park.

The York County Sports Complex Committee made its case June 16 for hospitality tax money to build a park on Crowders Creek. The $8.5 million plan includes $1.5 million generated from the community donations, but relies on the 2 percent hospitality tax charged on food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county like Lake Wylie.

Park committee member and former York County Councilman Perry Johnston said the park was a need at least since he joined Council a dozen years ago. The county has been collecting a recreation tax, divvying it to municipal recreation programs. Then came the hospitality tax in 2007.

“For 12 years we’ve been collecting money from the Lake Wylie area,” said Johnston. “It’s time to build something now.”

Lake Wylie Athletic Association and others – including current county Councilman Bruce Henderson and Tom Smith, a hospitality tax advisory group member and former county councilman – presented a plan that includes three artificial surface multipurpose fields, three baseball or softball fields with artificial infields, restrooms, concessions, a playground, picnic shelter and walking trails. The artificial fields make the initial cost higher than grass fields, but would reduce maintenance costs, which has been a Council concern because the county does not have a recreation department.

“The cost has gone up, but the maintenance has gone down,” Smith said.

The park would located at 5668 Charlotte Highway on 50 acres owned by York County. It would have 462 parking spaces to serve weekly recreational play and weekend tournaments.

“Tournaments generate tourism,” said Ron Domurat, LWAA vice president. “Tourism generates revenue.”

Planners project 25 baseball or softball tournaments per year, and about as many soccer events. Some weekends would feature tournaments for both. Those events could generate more than 43,000 visitors the first two years with an estimated financial impact of $1.9 million.

Other sports could use the facility on available weekends.

“It’s hard to get ink on paper until we actually get fields on dirt,” Johnston said.

Lisa Meadows, executive director for Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, works with existing county sports facilities like Manchester Meadows and Cherry Park in Rock Hill.

“We could sell fields all day long,” she said. “Tournaments are such a big deal right now.”

The tax advisory group will work with park planners to create a formal presentation for York County Council, likely in September. Council could then make a decision by the end of the year. Domurat said then work could begin on the park in early 2016 and be complete by spring 2017.

Advisory group members, who make project recommendations to Council, are looking for more capital projects like the one in Lake Wylie rather thanfestivals or one-time events to draw ongoing business.

“It’s important to put a plan together,” said Chairman Watts Huckabee. “We’ve got to look at the ones that generate the most H-tax dollars, so we can do more.”

Council recently approved $1 million toward the outdoor water park at the aquatic center being built by Clover School District. The Fort Mill School District has submitted a $3.2 million multipurpose fields to host tournaments. The issue is finding the right funding balance.

“These are the types of projects that should take precedent,” said tax group member Hannah Davis. “I just don’t know how we’re going to fund it.”

The county has about $4 million in available hospitality tax revenue. About $2 million comes in annually. The county can bond up to $10 million more. Park planners are asking for a bond to pay for construction, paid back through hospitality tax revenue.

“We recognize there’s a demand for recreation in the Lake Wylie area,” Huckabee said. “The challenge is, there’s only so much money to go around.”

The park plan will need $400,000 initially for engineering a site plan. Proponents say it will create ongoing hospitality tax revenue, a key selling point to secure funding. They also see it as a gathering place for the Lake Wylie community.

“It’s a missing link right now,” Smith said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166