Crowders Creek park planners close in on cost estimate

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comOctober 14, 2013 

— Planners behind a new Lake Wylie park effort expect to have a number by the end of the month, one they believe will have the support needed to get their long-awaited vision built.

There already are 50 acres in place near Crowders Creek from a 2007 planned development agreement. There are community partnerships waiting on issues like field maintenance. Planners just need initial funding, and to get it they’re waiting on a consultant’s estimate which should come by month’s end.

“It’s more reflective of what we’re actually looking at doing,” said Tom Smith, who is pushing the plan.

A previous, outside study brought back an $11.2 million price tag. That number gave York County Council members pause. It didn’t sit well with park planners, either, who said what they’re wanting could be half that figure.

Members want to pay for the park using hospitality tax money, charged on food in unincorporated areas of the county. The idea is to issue a 20-year bond and pay it back with money that, in part, the new park would help accrue.

“If you don’t have them, how do you get them?” Smith said of tourism-generating facilities. “That’s what the (hospitality tax) is for.”

Hospitality tax funding was a hot topic at last week’s York County Council meeting, where a split vote ultimately passed funding for both the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the visitor center at the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce.

Councilman Bruce Henderson supported funding the center in Lake Wylie, but wanted cuts made to the county bureau.

Henderson said he understands how that might seem like a double standard, supporting one in his district but not the other.

“There’s been a double standard for me and my district for years,” Henderson said.

The councilman and members of the park planning group have repeatedly stated that hospitality tax money should be used to create facilities in the area where most of the money is taxed.

Behind unincorporated Fort Mill, which brings in more than half of the tax funding annually with Carowinds and nearby businesses, the Lake Wylie area brings in the most at close to 25 percent, Smith said.

Councilman Joe Cox, who voted with Henderson against the full funding, believes hospitality tax funding needs to be revamped or removed altogether.

“We have got to put money in the kitty to start building projects if that is what you want hospitality tax to do,” said Cox, who said most of the money is now going to support existing tourism sites in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Tega Cay that have their own hospitality tax and don’t contribute to the unincorporated one.

Of the roughly $10 million brought in thus far by the tax, “about $1.5 million is what you can touch,” Cox said. Another $6 million or so more, he said, is spent on salaries and promotional activities. Cox wants more Council control of the spending process, and a better sense of how money is being spent to benefit the areas that generate it.

“I will not stand by and tax somebody for a group to go through almost $6-plus million and never give you anything to show for it,” he said.

As Council plans a workshop to iron out hospitality tax spending, park planners in Lake Wylie are confident they’ll have the needed votes when their item comes to a decision.

“We’re getting close,” Smith said. “We’re trying to answer the hard questions, and we will.”

Charles Wood, a CVB member and board president with the Lake Wylie Chamber, also is helping push the park plan. He’s confident area restaurants can bring in the tax revenue to support the plan.

“The amount of money generated by the tax just in Dist. 2 could pretty much pay off a bond issue,” he said.

Weekend tournament and other events at the park would bring more families, who will eat more meals at restaurants along S.C. 49, he said.

“It’s sort of like a never-ending income for the Lake Wylie area,” Wood said.

Smith said three or four years funding maintenance and other needed issues at the park would be followed by years of self-funding through tournament or league play. If the number comes back this month closer to what he believes is needed for the park, Smith said his group could have a funding proposal to Council before the end of the year.

He also believes Council will be willing to allocate the funds.

“That’s all we’ve ever really asked for,” Smith said. “Just give us what we put in.”

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