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County Council, February 23

Requests for Accommodation Tax funding
Council member Qualey questions CVB role
Warwick Jones

There was little business before Council at yesterday’s session of the Finance Committee. But it was still a relatively long meeting because of presentations from three entities seeking funds to finance expansion or refurbishing projects. Each had an eye to the deliberations of Council in the next month or so over the allocation of Accommodation Tax funds.

The first presentation was on behalf of the Gibbes Museum and its associate, The Carolina Art Association. Ms. Angela Mack, Executive Director of the Museum described its activities of then told of the major refurbishing and construction project planned. It would entail the creation of studios and rental facilities amongst other things. The cost was estimated at less than $10 million and that the City of Charleston had committed to contributing $1.7 million.

Ms. Mack did not state what the applicants would be seeking from Council.

The second presentation was by the Executive Director of the Patriots Point Development Authority, Mr. Mac Burdette. He told the Committee that the Authority was planning to create a Leadership Institute associated with the Medal of Honor Museum. The institute would sponsor meetings and conventions for business leaders and others. It would be located in the USS Yorktown, and to renovate the area dedicated to the institute would cost about $400,000. The County was to be asked for $46,000.

The final presentation related to the Charleston Museum. Director Dr. John Brumgardt told the Committee that money ran out when the museum was being constructed in 1980 and there was none left to finish the construction and furbishing of the courtyard. The cost was estimated at $362,000 and Dr. Brumgardt hoped that the County would make a contribution. We note that the County and the City own the Museum, two thirds and one third respectively.

Council members had few questions of the presenters and indeed no decisions were called for last night. Council member Schweers asked staff to gather a lot of details relating to the applications – tourism impact, other funding sources etc - that would help Council in its deliberations over the allocation of tax funds. Council member Rawl took this further. He noted that the presentations related to projects that could be described as “capital”. The implication was that funding might be possible through bonds rather than the allocation of tax monies.

Council member Qualey questioned the role of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). A few years ago, the CVB in conjunction with the College of Charleston was tasked by Council to assess the merits of the applications by agencies and others for Accommodation Tax funds. Council member Schweers said that in his discussion with the CVB at the time, it was clear it knew more about assessing projects than Council members. Politics had been taken out of decision-making on allocations. Council member Qualey was not satisfied and wanted some assurance that the CVB was qualified to make the assessments. Who was watching over it, he asked? Chairman Pryor suggested that Council member Qualey meet with the CVB to gain the information that he sought. The Council member retorted that he met with the CVB last year and it was “ difficult” to obtain the information he sought. Chairman Pryor after some heated dialogue instructed staff to set up a meeting for Council member Qualey and other interested Council members with representatives of the CVB.

For the record, the CVB is a registered 501 (c) non-profit organization. In 2010, it had revenues of $9.4 million of which $5.7 million came from grants and contributions. Expenses in 2010 were $9.7 million. At the end of 2010, the CVB had cash on hand of $3.3 million. Directors included Council members, municipality representatives and citizens. At the end of 2010, Council members Seeking and Wilson represented the City of Charleston and Chairman Pryor, the County.

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