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Smoak invites city to revisit rec options

Posted: January 26, 2012 2:40 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Councilman Stephen Smoak

Kershaw County Councilman Stephen Smoak reached out to the city of Camden during county council’s meeting Tuesday, trying to gauge the city’s support for a joint venture with the county to replace Rhame Arena.

City officials purchased a portion of the former site of Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy in March 2011 with the intention of replacing Rhame. Those plans are now on hold due to a lawsuit over the use of hospitality taxes to construct the city’s proposed sports complex and a petition to hold a referendum so city residents can vote on whether to move forward with the project. The ballot measure, if held, would also ask whether or not the city should partner with a third-party, nonprofit, such as the YMCA of Columbia.

Smoak said he applauded the city’s efforts for recognizing the importance of recreation in the community and believed a collaborative effort for a new facility would not only benefit Kershaw County citizens, but could also draw visitors into the county.

“This project would be a partnership solely between the city and the county. It would not involve any outside entities. It would be open and accessible to all citizens of Kershaw County,” Smoak said. “Most importantly, it would be done at maximum efficiency to the taxpayers by preventing the duplication of facilities in this area.”

His comments were made at the end of Tuesday’s meeting during council members’ briefings. No other councilman spoke on the subject at the meeting.

Smoak asked other members of county council and county staff to consider the possibilities of such a project before council’s retreat scheduled for Feb. 4. The retreat was designed by the county to outline significant policy goals for the upcoming year.

Smoak said Wednesday that the level of debate and discussion surrounding the city’s plans for recreation has indicated a “real opportunity” for the city and county to partner in such a project.

“We just want to begin with some discussion and planning on this,” Smoak said. “Everybody needs to be involved, all of city council and all of county council as well, really anyone who has a stake in such a facility needs to be involved.”

He said that through a collaborative effort, the city and county could capitalize on recreational tourism opportunities and promote economic development.

Smoak said the two governments have worked together on recreational projects before.

“I think the county rec department has always been willing to work with the city, and our rec department also recognizes the need for new and improved facilities.”

County Council Chairman Gene Wise said he agreed with Smoak’s notion that the project should be void of a third party influence.

“We already have the subject matter experts running the facilities with a county director and employees, so there’s no reason to introduce a third party provider that we have to pay fees to or where they take the revenues from it,” Wise said. “We currently get a revenue stream from activities where people do pay fees. It doesn’t offset the recreational budget, but it does help fund recreational programs.”

Wise said he envisions a new facility similar in size to Rhame Arena.

“I think it needs to be clean and simple and I think it needs to have a multi-purpose concept to it,” he said. “Currently, the city owns it (Rhame Arena) and the county develops and manages the recreational programs that they use it for. I’d like to see that collaboration continue with a facility that has basketball courts, a walking trail, really something multi-purpose from a standpoint that we could have events in there as well.”

The city of Camden approached the county in July to request $1.5 million to help the city create a sports complex to be potentially managed by the YMCA of Columbia.

The county, however, did not to join the project.

Wise said that by using a third party provider, such as the YMCA, revenue streams generated from the facility would have been collected by the third party and not the county.

“There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room there for us to just write a check for $1.5 million,” he said. “I don’t mind investing money if I can get a return. If I’m investing the county’s money into a project, I’d like to see some kind of return for the county so that the revenue stream would come back to offset the capital expense. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of allocating our resources, but that was just one we could not sign up for from a financial perspective without a return.”

Wise also said a more collaborative effort could be fostered without the influence of third parties.

“If we keep a third party out of it and if that’s agreeable to the city and to us, then we can get a return on our investment. And when you make an investment and get a return, you feel much better about it,” Wise said.

County Council Vice Chairman Sammie Tucker Jr. said he believes this is a fitting time to look into developing some type of collaborative recreational project.

“We can do some exciting things in Kershaw County with our recreation,” Tucker said. “At this point, the economy seems to be coming back and the part I like most about it is that ultimately the people will decide what they want and don’t want.”

Tucker said Smoak’s request could help restart a dialogue between the city and county with new ideas for recreation.

“Right now, this is just an offer. We’ve got to see if there’s a still a viable partnership here.”

Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham indicated that might be the case.

“It’s exciting to me for the county to say they want to come back to the table to discuss recreation,” Graham said Wednesday. “I’ve very excited by the idea of them looking at county recreation as a whole and moving forward like the city is trying to do.”

Graham said he believes Smoak was proposing to partner on something larger than just replacing Rhame Arena.

“Whether or not it’s exactly what we’ve proposed or not remains to be seen. Something like Rhame would not lift the level of recreation in this county, and I think everyone’s goal is to lift recreation,” Graham said.

He said each council would have to look at what would be cost effective, but that he was glad to hear Smoak’s offer.

“We’re more than happy to get with them,” Graham said of city council working with county council, “and talk about what their new recreation plan might include and how we might fit into that.”

Graham said city council was meeting Thursday at Carolina Motorsports Park for its annual strategic planning session, which will likely include discussions on recreation and the on-hold plans for a sports complex.

County Recreation Director James Davis issued a press release after Tuesday’s county council meeting indicating the county has commissioned a 10-year recreational master plan update with the intention of implementing the new plan within the next five years.

Davis said community outreach will be a vital part of the planning process and that seven public forums have been scheduled to receive feedback on updating the master plan. The meetings will be held: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and Feb. 23 at the Kershaw County Government Center; 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at North Central High School; 9:30 a.m. Feb. 11 at Stover Middle School; 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at Lugoff-Elgin High School; 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Bethune Woman’s Club; and 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Mt. Pisgah Elementary School.

(Associate Editor Martin L. Cahn contributed to this report.)


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