Lake Wylie park planners ask for share of tax for funding

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comFebruary 25, 2013 

— Plans for a park along Crowders Creek have seen change during the past five years, and likely will see more change. What hasn’t changed is the way leaders behind the project want it funded.

“We’re going to ask for hospitality tax money, a great percentage of which is generated from our area,” said Tom Smith, former county councilman and current park proponent. “We’re not asking for anything that we haven’t put in already.”

Park planning ramped up in 2007 when community leaders looked to make use of 50 acres on Crowders Creek donated to the county as part of a large planned development. Leaders argued the park should be paid in part or in full by hospitality tax dollars, a 2 percent charge on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county, such as Lake Wylie.

A recent consultant plan for the park put the cost at more than $11 million, but Smith said his group is looking at less than half that much getting started.

“That’s not what our vision was,” he said. “We’re not going to overspend. There’s going to be a certain cap.”

The Lake Wylie area generates more than $350,000 annually in hospitality tax funding, so asking for $250,000 to $275,000 of those dollars would allow planners to back a 20-year bond, Smith said. He says an initial phase can be created for $4 to $4.5 million using tax money only.

“We’re not pulling from any other district,” Smith said.

Smith and others spoke before York County Council last week about the park proposal. Dave Pettine, county planning and development director, told Council several studies have been completed on Lake Wylie recreational needs. The most recent was last year and included a community survey.

“This has been across the board,” Pettine said. “Any of the studies that we’ve done, Lake Wylie is grossly underserved in regards to recreation.”

Pettine said about 25 percent of the area’s youth sports participants travel to Mecklenburg or Gaston counties to play. A new facility in Lake Wylie not only could keep some of those players close to home, but could reverse the trend.

“We’re also losing the opportunity for attracting some of those folks (from beyond the county),” Pettine said.

Pettine mentioned bonds, grants, private donations and a recreation tax district as other possible means of raising the needed money, although Smith said his focus is on the hospitality tax.

“None of these are things that we advocate one higher than the other,” Pettine said. “They’re just the options on the table as far as possible funding.”

Hospitality tax requires a plan showing how tourism will be generated, meaning it would need to focus more on travel team tournaments and similar events than local youth leagues. However, planners say the park could be used for both. Pettine said it could take a few years before the park begins generating revenue.

“You have to justify the use of that hospitality tax to show you are attracting folks into the county,” he said. “It is imperative to make sure that’s an element of this.”

Council sent the park plan to is committee on health and environmental protection. A decision from that committee is expected in two months.

Perry Johnston, another former council member, said the community is “begging” for something, as field space is being leased outside the county. The park is at least 10 years in the idea stage, he said, and it’s time to act.

“At some point when you pay in and pay into the county funding, you want to get something in return,” Johnston said.

The park could host events with other facilities in the county, or even take overflow tournaments or events from Rock Hill.

“We want to be part of the sports market coming to York County, and pay back our businesses who are currently paying into the hospitality tax at this rate,” Johnston said.

Most recent planning includes three full-size baseball and soccer fields, though planners say those elements could change. There is a 100-foot buffer along the lake and trails likely will be included. Several community partnerships are being explored with corporate, public and youth organizations.

“It’s important to everybody,” Smith said.

In addition to the 50 acres donated by Crescent Resources, there are 18 acres beside it for public infrastructure and a possible 26 more close by, which could bring the park up to 100 or more acres in the future. Pettine said one figure showed the park generating $765,000 from sports tournaments.

“That in turn increases our sales tax revenue,” Pettine said of tourism traffic. “It increases our hospitality tax revenue. It just continues to put that money back into the pot.”

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