Bobby Walker says York County could be sitting on a gold mine.
Walker plans to submit a formal proposal for a county agritourism facility in 2016. He envisions a venue for farmers markets, equestrian events, concerts and festivals on 60 to 100 acres or more.
“This thing needs to be multipurpose where there’s something going on most every weekend,” Walker told the county hospitality tax advisory committee Oct. 20.
The advisory group has recommended two projects for hospitality tax dollars totaling more than $8 million, with York County Council to decide by Dec. 21. Council members approved a $1 million project for a water park addition to the aquatic center in Lake Wylie and has others submitted or planned.
The hospitality tax fund has about $6 million, bringing in about $2 million annually from a 2 percent charge on food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county.
“Try not to spend all the money before then,” Walker said.
Some advisory group members say projects should be evaluated as they come, while others want a more comprehensive plan, so projects like an agritourism facility won’t show up staring at an empty account.
“There needs to be a deliberate approach to putting together a vision for the county,” said Watts Huckabee, advisory group chairman.
Some group members see an agritourism facility as an asset for the county. Former councilman Tom Smith said a similar plan arose several years ago. He visited two possible sites between York and Rock Hill, but a cost at more than $14 million, and changes in the economy and county leadership pushed the plan aside.
“We really never got to the point where we got to looking at joint ventures,” Smith said.
Now, as an advisory group member, Smith can envision a new plan.
“When we look at agritourism, we’re going to have to look at, where are these people eating?” Smith said.
Walker said the loss of county fair space in Rock Hill led many, particularly in the equestrian community, to look at an agritourism facility several years ago. About 10 people are involved now. Walker said the top two industries in South Carolina are agriculture and tourism, making a local facility a logical fit.
“Every weekend there are folks passing us by to go to major events all over,” Walker said. “You’re sitting on what I consider a gold mine.”
A potential issue with a new facility would be management. Council members are looking toward self-sustaining projects, rather than projects that will need continued funding. Walker said an agritourism facility likely would mean contracting a management company.
Walker would like to see the facility in a rural area, but with interstate access. Smith said a partnership with a local landowner could reduce costs from what consultants presented when he was on the council.
The county finance and operations committee are scheduled to vote Dec. 7 on two projects: $4.9 million for a sports complex in Lake Wylie and $3.2 million for multipurpose fields in Fort Mill. Council members should take final action Dec. 21. If council members approves both, phased in approaches could save money in the account for an agritourism facility. For example, when council members approved $1 million earlier this year, the group spaced the payout over eight years.
John Marks: 803-831-8166