Opinion Columns & Blogs

York County needs TAC

York County wants ideas on what to do with Knights Stadium after the minor league baseball team returns to Charlotte.

Just when that will be is anyone's guess. Although the team and the Queen City, from whence it came 20 years ago, wish to tango, legal squabbles have put the dance on hold.

The county should set a date to end the lease, leaving it to Charlotte to figure out where the Knights next play. County government then should devote the 10,000-seat stadium and its 32 acres to uses that advance two important segments of our economy: tourism and agribusiness. Rename it the York County Tourism and Agriculture Center (TAC).

Requests for an equestrian center jump-started this discussion, and fittingly so. Horses and the people who breed, feed, train and shoe horses generate $2 million or so annually.

But don't stop there. Encourage other agriculture-related uses, including a reinvigorated York County Fair, youth livestock shows and -- especially -- a regional farmers market.

Across the country, there is a movement toward "local food." Consumers, fed up with tainted produce and veggies that have been trucked across the continent, increasingly are patronizing roadside stands, pick-your-own fields and farmers markets.

Imagine the fun of shopping at the TAC, where you find yourself next to a chef from one of Charlotte's better restaurants as she mulls over which eggplants and asparagus to buy.

Situated next to an interstate highway, 12 miles from the largest city in the Carolinas, the York County Farmers Market would become a major draw.

Also, the S.C. Department of Agriculture has said it will help pay to establish regional farmers markets.

Why should the county want to help farmers? Because every acre planted in, say, peaches or strawberries is an acre not covered with houses or strip commercial. If a significant amount of York County's open space is to be preserved, ultimately it will be because landowners can turn a profit farming or by leasing land to others to truck-farm, breed heritage livestock or launch other agribusinesses.

Which brings me to the other "best use" of Knights Stadium.

Tourism is South Carolina's biggest industry, and although York County tourism is overshadowed by the Grand Strand and Charleston, hundreds of people are employed locally in the hotel and restaurant trade.

The TAC could serve as a visitors center, promoting such attractions as Carowinds, Glencairn Garden and the Museum of York County.

Even greater potential lies in the tour-bus market, which is predicted to explode as baby boomers begin retiring in great numbers.

I was having lunch with friends in downtown Beaufort recently when a bus filled with older tourists arrived. Within minutes, every restaurant had a line out the door.

With a little imagination, the county could figure ways to entice developers to build hotels and restaurants designed with oversized lobbies, luggage-handling areas or dining spaces to accommodate several buses at once.

Moreover, the TAC could be a focal point for York County's three unique tourism assets -- the "3 R's": The Revolution, The River and The Reservation.

Heritage tourism is a non-polluting industry that appeals to many boomers. York County has several important historic sites, most notably the Kings Mountain battlefield and Historic Brattonsville.

Likewise, the Catawba River below Lake Wylie is a magnet for hikers, canoeists and other nature lovers; and the Catawba Indian Reservation is a largely untapped resource for tourism.

Eventually, the Carolina Thread Trail will make it possible to hike from Kings Mountain National Battlefield to the Reservation, and perhaps as far as Landsford Canal State Park and Great Falls. The TAC could lease space to vendors that cater to backpackers, canoeists, birdwatchers, etc. It could also serve as a depot for businesses that conduct tours in York and nearby counties; encourage cultural tourism by providing space for local artists and craftspeople to sell their wares; and take advantage of those 10,000 seats by adding a removable stage so that bluegrass concerts and other outdoor events could be held during warmer months.

What we don't need are more offices filled with jobs that are eliminated every time Wall Street sneezes.