Early next year, Brown Simpson expects to have a better handle on recreation needs in Fort Mill – which isn’t to say he’ll have immediate answers.
“We’ve got a lot of pressing needs in Fort Mill,” said Simpson, the town’s parks and recreation director.
Fort Mill will work with Clemson University on a recreation program and facility needs study in December, which will take about a month to complete. It will include planning for the end of a lease on the recreation complex on Tom Hall Street in a little more than five years. It will also plan for 28 acres set aside for a park in the new Waterside on the Catawba subdivision.
Simpson told colleagues from across the county recently that recreation needs in Fort Mill had been met for “forever” by the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex and the Springs family.
“Those days are over with now,” he said.
Now the town is taking up more league play and similar recreation duties as the Anne Springs Close Greenway focuses more on outdoor recreation and activities on its property.
York County’s hospitality tax advisory committee recently brought together recreation stakeholders, including representatives from every recreation department and school board in the county and Winthrop University athletics staff. The group discussed the cost of synthetic versus natural turf, candidates for the next women’s sport at Winthrop, and whether field hockey would join lacrosse as the next big wave in York County.
The advisory committee is charged with recommending to the York County Council how to spend money generated by the county’s hospitality tax. In the past, proposals have been evaluated as they have been submitted by community groups. But the committee, formed earlier this year, wants to create a plan that would better steer spending.
“We would like to give a perspective of what this county needs as a whole,” said Watts Huckabee, chairman of the advisory group. “We’re going to project a vision for the county.”
The hospitality tax brings in about $1.8 million annually, and has a little less than $4 million available.
While leaders are looking for consensus, different parts of the county face different challenges.
In Fort Mill, it’s explosive population growth and weaning off of longtime private recreation assets toward public ones. In Clover, it’s promoting the New Centre Park, paid for through hospitality funds.
In Rock Hill, where sports tourism is a $20 million business, the issue is finding niche sports like cycling, where regional and national events pour money into local restaurants and hotels.
“Sports tourism is big business,” said John Taylor, director of Rock Hill Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “I don’t know that we’re always working together.”
Organizers in Lake Wylie want the county to develop a new park on 50 acres, paid for with hospitality tax money. They say a future recreation complex in Fort Mill could use the same route for funding.
While the hospitality tax is geared toward tourism, county experts say communities can’t afford to overlook recreation when deciding how to spend dollars.
“Don’t forget about your own kids,” said Moe Bell, CEO of the Upper Palmetto YMCA, which has locations throughout York County.
Taylor said local residents can’t be forgotten in favor of bringing in tourism dollars.
“Every community needs ballfields,” Taylor said. “Every community needs to have something for their children to do.”
Recreation needs in Fort Mill, already near tapping out on field space, are only going to become a more pressing issue, Simpson said. He already partners with most every school that has athletic space, and the opening of 54 acres at the new Riverview Elementary School in January will help with its four multi-purpose fields.
Yet as more residents move in, more questions will need answers.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Simpson said.