County Council blocks new Rock Hill visitors center

jzou@heraldonline.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Baxter Hood

The York County Council voted Monday to block a land purchase by the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, ending a nearly hour-long debate that split council members.

The council voted 4-3 to block the acquisition, which would have allowed the CVB to buy less than an acre of land in the Riverwalk Town Center in Rock Hill and build a new visitors center there.

The current visitors center is at Baxter Hood Center near York Technical College, but the CVB has been searching for a new location that has more “accessibility and visibility,” director Lisa Meadows said.

The Riverwalk site was selected, Meadows said, because of its proximity to Interstate 77 and dining and other attractions.

The CVB promotes tourism in York County through a combination of advertising and marketing paid for by a hospitality tax.

But Councilman Joe Cox said he didn’t consider the new building a good use of tax dollars. He proposed a motion to block the purchase.

“I don’t disagree they need a new office space,” Cox said, adding he plans to look into restructuring the CVB from his position as chairman of the council’s finance and operations committee. “Moving forward with Riverwalk is just a portion of the question.”

Cox questioned the need for a physical visitors’ center in a time when tourists increasingly get travel information online.

Councilman Bruce Henderson agreed, saying the council needed more time to evaluate the bureau and its long-term role.

“We need to back up and reconsider the whole thing,” he said.

The move angered Councilman Bump Roddey, chairman of the council committee that worked with the CVB to select the site.

Roddey said he had been “blindsided” by the “11th-hour” motion by Cox, calling it “disrespectful.”

“I feel totally slapped in the face,” Roddey said. “You’re working behind the scenes to handicap it,” he told Cox.

“This thing’s been talked about for a year now,” Roddey said. “They’ve done their due diligence to explore other options.”

Voting with Cox and Henderson were Councilmen Curwood Chappell and Michael Johnson.

The CVB has done tremendous work in promoting tourism in the county, Johnson said, but the choice of Riverwalk was an expensive one.

“The CVB has basically become the whipping boy of the council,” he said. “This is not a CVB problem, it’s a County Council problem.”

Johnson echoed concerns from Roddey when it came to the County Council’s micro-managing volunteer boards such as the CVB.

“Our purpose is to set where we want to go,” he said. “It’s not to manage every little group in this county.”

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell and Councilman Chad Williams sided with Roddey in the failed bid to reject the motion.

“I’m not going to kill the site,” said Blackwell, suggesting the council delay voting until November.

County attorney Michael Kendree said Monday’s vote didn’t necessarily kill the idea of building the center at Riverwalk. He said it can be raised again at a later meeting.

Also Monday, the council created a new position in the county engineering department.

The facilities project manager will work alongside county engineers and incoming County Manager Bill Shanahan on capital projects.

Interim County Manager Anna Moore said the county will start advertising the position later this month with a salary range of $66,000 to $93,000.

“We’ve lacked the ability to follow through,” Moore said of her office’s juggling of large capital projects.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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