Could York County develop national standing among the horsey set?
That's a question York County Council wants to explore. Members gave unanimous approval last week for a study on the merits of converting Knights Stadium to an equestrian center.
Horse lovers told the council of benefits derived from equestrian centers in Clemson and elsewhere. A center in Maryland, for example, reportedly generates $17 million annually. They pointed out that horses already are an economic engine here.
Councilman Paul Lindeman, who represents the district that includes the baseball stadium, was supportive. Interestingly, he earlier had advocated selling the property once the Knights leave.
It's understandable that council members might be tempted to cash in on the stadium and its surrounding 32 acres along Interstate 77. Rosy projections aside, it's unlikely an equestrian center would be self-sustaining -- at least right away. Even if the county committed all of its roughly $1 million in accommodations tax revenues, it would take years to recover the cost of renovating the 10,000-seat stadium.
Also, when the county looks into equestrian centers, it may find that few turn a profit. It's one thing to build a facility to accommodate horse shows and agricultural fairs, but someone has to book and promote events, mow the grass, sweep horse poop, etc.
For Knights Stadium to have a future as a public venue -- as opposed to being a saleable asset -- two things must take place: 1. Compatible uses must be identified; and, 2. A case must be made for building "green" industry.
For starters, the county should relocate its Visitors and Convention Bureau to the stadium and open a new visitors center. While that might seem duplicative of the S.C. Welcome Center one interstate exit away, this move would have several advantages.
For one, the center could become a tourism hub. Bus tours are an increasingly important market for areas that lack a major draw such as a beach or casino. Busloads of baby boomers could provide a customer base for restaurants, gift shops, etc. Local tour outfits could operate day and half-day tours to attractions as Kings Mountain National Battlefield, Historic Brattonsville, the Museum of York County, Glencairn Garden, York, etc.
The Herald and The Charlotte Observer have carried articles about positive things happening along the Catawba, indisputably the region's greatest -- and largely untapped -- natural resource. Entrepreneurs have launched a canoe and kayak rental business, and some major developers say they are willing to allow public trails along their portion of riverfront. Most significantly, after years of negotiation, the state has acquired more than 15 miles of mostly unspoiled river frontage near Great Falls. A portion of the Knights Stadium property, which will be linked with a network of regional trails, could be leased for rental of kayaks, bikes, etc. If York County doesn't capitalize on its ecotourism potential, it will have missed the canoe.
The county also should talk to the S.C. Department of Agriculture about potential for a farmers market. With growing concerns about food safety and desire for locally grown items, Knights Stadium would make a great location for selling regional produce, flowers and ornamentals. Imagine mingling with chefs from Charlotte restaurants, passers-through from Ohio and New York, as well as neighbors as you wander among tables of locally grown food or pick up a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers!
And let's not forget that the York County Fair is looking for a new home. Every county should have a place to celebrate agriculture and homemaking skills. It's a shame that York County children no longer may show their animals at the county fair.
Why should York County develop the stadium as a boon to these constituencies?
By doing so, the county would enable people to earn a living without selling their land to developers. For every acre that is not turned into subdivisions or clear-cut for strip malls, fewer schools need to be built, fewer roads paved and fewer deputies added.
Politicians fall over themselves to give incentives to companies that may not be here the following year and which may provide few jobs for local people. It's time for York County to do something for itself.