COLUMBIA, SC — Richland County Council members are hiring consultants to explore whether a half-dozen projects they want to build will draw tourists to suburban areas.
The wish list includes a multi-purpose center for volleyball and basketball tournaments on Bluff Road in Lower Richland County; a waterpark on Farrow Road in Northeast Richland; a swimming complex on Garners Ferry Road; and amphitheaters – possibly three of them, in Irmo, St. Andrews and in the northeast part of the county.
The first meeting of a new committee formed to examine the county’s use of $5.4 million a year in restaurant-tax money was held Friday afternoon. The group grew out of discontent by some council members at the amount of money devoted to Columbia-based tourist attractions and a desire to build facilities in unincorporated areas, funded with the tourist tax.
Administrator Tony McDonald said he didn’t have an estimate of the cost of the studies. Neither did Councilman Jim Manning, who the group elected as chairman.
Manning said the group’s charge is important because it could change the way money is distributed to groups like the Columbia Museum of Art, Historic Columbia Foundation and the EdVenture children’s museum.
“It’s huge amounts of money, and it will have a long-term impact for our county, whichever way we go,” Manning said.
Some tensions arose during a discussion of what’s meant by the term “tourist” and whether the projects on the wish list would draw people from outside Richland County or entertain constituents.
Under state law, the restaurant tax must be used to attract tourists but the definition of “tourist” is vague.
“Anybody that can’t see the place from their house basically is a tourist,” Manning said after passing around a copy of the definition in state law.
The group is supposed to have final recommendations by October with a goal of funding new projects a year from now.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.