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County seeks answers on city sports complex

Posted: September 30, 2011 3:24 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2011 5:00 a.m.

“We would have liked to have been involved in this process a lot earlier,” said Kershaw County Councilman Tom Gardner of county council’s participation in plans for a new city-built sports complex in Camden.

Gardner’s concerns, and those of fellow county recreation committee members Bobby Gary and Sammie Tucker Jr., were expressed Wednesday during a meeting at Camden City Hall with Camden City Manager Kevin Bronson, Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham, Camden City Councilman Walter Long and YMCA of Columbia CEO Bryan Madden.

Bronson replied that members of county council had been involved in the process for a “long time.”

“To say this is a ‘Johnny Come Lately’ thing would be mistaken,” Bronson said. 

Long said that county councilmen had been involved early in the process and added that he was uncertain if the county had the funds available to be a capital partner in the project.

“We have discussed this in previous meetings that I think we all that know that a challenge for you guys will be doing some kind of capital infusion for this project,” Long said.  

Tucker said the county has the necessary funds, but was unsure if county council could agree to actually appropriate it.

“The money is not the issue,” Tucker said. “I can assure you of that. We have money sitting in reserves. I think I’m more worried about having four people that are willing to access it.”

In order to appropriate money, a majority of county council’s seven members would have to approve the transaction. 

One of county council’s main concerns was a possible duplication of services between the YMCA and the county’s recreation department.

Madden said his organization had no desire to compete with the county’s recreation department.

“I know you’ll have to find a level of trust and you don’t have it yet because we just got here,” Madden said. “I haven’t earned it yet and I don’t expect you to give it to me at this point. But it just doesn’t make any sense for me to run a program that you are already running and running well.”

Gardner said he wanted to know more about the city’s contingency plan.

“Let’s say you signed a five year deal and in two years or three years, the novelty wears off and you’re already into it and then say ‘this isn’t working.’ Where do you go with or without us?” asked Gardner.

Bronson asked why the county would be interested in such a question if it would not be making an investment.

 “Not to be curt, but if you’re not involved, then why do you care?” Bronson said.

Gardner, hitting his fist on the table to emphasize his point, asked, “Is the Y going to say, ‘county you’ve got to put more in, city you’ve got to put more in, or we’re going to walk away?’ If we are involved and in two and a half years, they’re not producing the dollars to generate for the operating cost, are they going to ask us for money for operation, are they going to ask the city for money or are they going to say we’re going to walk? You will be left with a building, but who is going to pick up the tab then?”

Bronson said the city would not be involved in the project if they didn’t think the venture would be successful.

“We should be looking at this in the long-term and building it from scratch as a very successful building site and successful programs with the YMCA. Also, I don’t think Bryan or his board would let him enter into an agreement with the city if they’re looking only three years down the road.”

Long added that he understood Gardner’s apprehensions, but said the whole discussion of the project began with the idea of replacing Camden’s Rhame Arena.

“The Y aspect of it came into it as not just an afterthought, but as ‘wow this is something we can really make happen in Camden’ and that it could be a real positive thing for our citizens. As our council said, we’re going to replace city arena, period. If we all agree that we need to replace city arena, forget about the YMCA as a whole -- who’s going to pick up that tab right now? We do. We would have to pay the overhead of utilities,” Long said. “We all agreed to that, that’s why we bought the property. That’s why we’re moving in the direction that we’re moving in. If the Y walks away after a month, we still have the facility that we said we were going to build, just the programming would go away.”

Madden responded to Gardner by saying all business ventures have a risk associated with them.

“Sometimes you have the responsibility to take a risk,” Madden said. “If you don’t take any risk, you don’t get anything. But I feel very comfortable telling you that the Y will do a very good job of operating this facility and we will partner with anybody that we can.”       

Graham ended the meeting saying he wanted the city and county to have a continual dialogue.

“We feel confident about a partnership with the Y and that they can operate the facility at no additional tax cost for the citizens of Camden,” Graham said. “But what we most importantly want to do is to find the best ways to partner with the county and other agencies out there that do services for our youth and our adults in our community.”

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