On split, 4-1, votes, with Councilman X. Willard Polk voting against, Camden City Council passed first readings of two ordinances Tuesday night to facilitate the issuance of a bond valued at up $700,000 in hospitality taxes (HTAX) to purchase Ross Beard’s entire military collection. A portion of Beard’s collection -- a vast array of vintage firearms, spy gear and material connected to Melvin Purvis’ 1934 takedown of mobster John Dillinger -- is on loan to the Camden Archives and Museum. Other portions of the collection are in Beard’s personal possession or housed at the S.C. Military Museum in Columbia.
The purchase would mean the city would own Beard’s entire collection, the remaining portions of which would be moved to Camden.
Beard is offering the collection for $700,000 in seven equal annual payments. Appraisers have valued the collection at $2 million.
Very few people attended the council meeting and no one spoke up during a public hearing on the matter. Polk objected -- as he had two weeks ago -- to holding first reading on the bond ordinances on the same night as the public hearing.
Polk pointed out some scrivener errors in the first of the bond ordinances, both of which were cleared up quickly. That ordinance is “authorizing and providing for the issuance of hospitality fee revenue bonds of the city of Camden, South Carolina, and other matters relating thereto.” The ordinance passed on the first 4-1 vote without further comment.
Polk, however, explained why he was not voting in favor of the ordinances after Mayor Tony Scully read the second ordinance. That ordinance is “providing for the issuance and sale of a not exceeding $700,000 hospitality fee revenue bond (taxable), series 2014 of the city of Camden, South Carolina, and other matters relating thereto.”
Polk said he was not opposed to the purchase itself, only the means by which the collection will be purchased.
“It was my understanding when we entered into this … several years ago, this collection was going to be on loan and, now, we’re entering into a purchase agreement using a bond as a means of purchase,” Polk said. “I am, again, opposed to using taxpayer money, which the hospitality tax is … to acquire a collection of a private individual.”
Councilman Walter Long, however, said that the portion of the collection that is already on loan is already “a big draw” for the archives.
“I think it is a worthwhile investment for the city. From a personal perspective, I would have preferred to see these funds going to this project had been used for a recreation complex,” Long said, referring to a failed 2012 referendum to have a possibly YMCA-run facility built by the city using HTAX funds.
He said that since that did not happen, he felt using the funds to purchase the Beard collection was a good alternative use. He also said that he understands that a fundraising campaign has been launched to expand the archives in order to better house the full collection.
Polk asked City Attorney Lawrence Flynn about the tax implications in purchasing the collection. Flynn said that while there are no such implications for the city, Beard or his estate could come back to the city to ask that the difference between the appraised value and the purchase price -- $1.3 million -- be written off as a donation to the city at a future date.
At that point, Mayor Scully called for the vote, resulting in the second 4-1 split with Polk voting against.
During the regular meeting, council also unanimously:
• passed first reading of an ordinance entering into a new employment agreement with City Manager Mel Pearson;
• approved HTAX Committee recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2015 disbursement of HTAX funds to various grantees; and
• reappointed Mary Sue Truesdale and Deborah Davis, and appointed Thelma Rutledge, to the Camden Parks and Trees Commission, each with terms expiring on May 31, 2017.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, council met for a work session, during which Maxway Property Development Commitment Chairman Jon Fike provided its interim recommendation for the former retail property. The city purchased and demolished the old Maxway department store last year after it sat abandoned for approximately 12 years at the corner of Broad and Rutlege streets. Council originally tasked the committee to review proposals from developers and the community, consider options for the site and make an executive decision for its future.
The city received no responses to a request for proposals (RFPs) from commercial developers, but received five of ideas from the public.
“There were none that really took us to say this is what we see as a committee that we would make a recommendation, that makes sense to us long-term,” Fike said.
He said they “weren’t bad,” but that the committee didn’t want to use them as long-term solutions since a downtown corner lot rarely comes up for development. Using the public proposals as a basis, however, the committee came up with an interim recommendation: minimally landscape the property to make it more “welcoming to tourists, visitors and residents alike.”
Fike said the interim solution is “low-impact” and “low cost,” and that the committee is seeking funding for the plan and authorization to evaluate design and site plan proposals to complete the work.
Camden Urban Forester Liz Gilland assisted the committee with ideas for the interim landscape’s vegetation. The plan would install 10 glossy abelias, 12 Magnolia “little gem” trees and two Chinese lacebark elms, along with turfgrass trisected by a mulch pathway.
“You (would) have this immediate greening, yet in a year or two, if the property sells, or some other use, you want to be able to come in and remove those green aspects, fairly readily and inexpensively,” Gilland said, saying that the interim concept is to “soften the look” of the lot especially since it abuts the south wall of TenEleven Galleria.
She said the design is “very basic and simple,” yet can have items added or taken away if the property does not sell and council decides to keep it as permanent public use green space. Gilland said benches may be placed in the space as well.
Several members of council expressed concern over both the mulch that would be used to make the pathway and the proposed magnolia trees that one councilmember said could be “messy.” Some council members also asked whether or not the city was actively marketing the property. Pearson and Economic Development Director Wade Luther both noted that a price was deliberately not included in the RFPs. Pearson also warned that putting a price out for potential buyers could ultimately lead to less control over what ends up on the property in the future.
Council decided to place an item on its next work session agenda to discuss the matter and provide instruction to city staff.
In other business during the work session:
• At the beginning of the work session, Pearson announced that Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP) will be the site of the 2015 Rotax Grand Nationals go-kart event. CMP unsuccessfully bid for the event in 2014. Pearson said participants, their supporters and family, and enthusiasts will not only come to the area for four nights in August, but would likely spend a week in July for pre-race events. He said race officials expect to reserve 150 rooms during the nationals in August.
• Deputy Public Works Director Sam Davis acknowledged Tyler Kirkland’s receipt of a Legacy of Learning Scholarship from the Water Environment Association of South Carolina. Kirkland’s father, Richard, is an employee at the city’s new waste water treatment plant (WWTP)
• Davis also reported on the WWTP’s startup and continuing work to close the old plant’s remaining lagoon.