A-Tax committee hears funding requests
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
The Darlington County Accommodations Tax Committee met on Thursday, March 26 to hear presentations from applicants requesting funding for their tourism-related events. The committee is responsible for dispersing a $60,000 funding pool to recipients whose venues and events increase local tourism and overnight hotel stays.
The A-tax pool comes from the state-mandated two-percent tax on hotel and motel stays, which is collected by the state and channeled back to counties and municipalities to increase tourism.
For the 2015/16 fiscal year, Darlington County received 18 applications for funding, totaling $133,591.00.
Lee Andrews, director for Darlington Area Parks and Recreation, requested a modest $1,000 to help fund the revived Southern 500 Parade. Andrews said any A-tax money would be paired with funding from Darlington Raceway and the City of Darlington to cover staging and promotion costs.
“This is the first time since 2003 that the Southern 500 is back on Labor Day weekend… and we want to bring back another tradition and that is the Southern 500 Parade,” Andrews said.
He said the parade should be a nostalgic affair, featuring NASCAR drivers (newbies and legends), marching bands, Shriners, and ornate floats. Andrews noted that the parade is scheduled for Sep. 5 at 7 p.m., if all goes well with the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 earlier that day.
Darlington city planner and DDRA director Lisa Chalian-Rock requested $1,200 to help promote Market on Darlington Square, the farmer’s market-style bazaars that regularly bring over 40 vendors, live music, and themed events to the Public Square. Coming up, the Market will feature a May gardening expo, a June pet parade, a fire truck exploration (aimed at youngsters) in August, and a racing-themed sidewalk chalk art contest on September 5 – just in time for the Southern 500 – and an October chili cook-off.
Chalian-Rock also asked for $2,500 to increase media buys to promote next year’s Taste of Darlington, scheduled this year for April 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Darlington Raceway garage area. Operating for over 30 years, the Taste offers visitors the chance to enjoy Darlington County’s most delicious and unique cuisines, all in one place and for one low price.
Hannah Stanley, executive director of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce, requested $3,000 to promote Freedom Fest, an all-day July 4 celebration held at the Darlington Raceway. The free event will feature live music, food vendors, games for the kids, and a massive fireworks show. Stanley said organizers were not prepared for the over 14,000 people who turned out last year for the inaugural event, but this year she expects perhaps 30,000 people to visit the track and enjoy the festivities. Stanley noted that since Freedom Fest won’t wrap up until after 10 p.m., lots of guests will likely turn their trip into an overnight stay, meaning more heads in Darlington County hotel beds.
Audrey Robinson requested $29,000 on behalf of Wilhelmina Johnson’s Cultural Realism Complex (CRC) to support community events and cultural preservation efforts. Last year, Darlington County Council rejected the A-tax committee’s recommendation and denied the CRC any funding, citing Johnson’s position on county council as a conflict of interest.
Robert Leard, representing the South Carolina Junior Golf Tournament, said the Hartsville-based event continues to draw 120 junior golfers and their families to stay in area hotels. Leard noted that competition this year will likely be fierce, as the Hartsville event is now a qualifier for a year-end championship in Myrtle Beach. The tournament officially requested$10,000 to support the event.
Jennie Peze requested $5,000 to promote the Eastern SC Heritage Region, which includes sites of historical note in Darlington County. These include the Hartsville Museum and Sculpture Garden, Reese’s Row in Darlington’s West Broad Street Historic District, and the St. John’s Historic District.
Marty Driggers, chief organizer for Hartsville bluegrass festival RenoFest, said the three-day event continues to draw thousands of out-of-state tourists who regularly book up all local hotels during their stays. He offered the committee a chart showing a spike in accommodations tax revenues each year during the festival, and requested $13,000 to continue aggressively promoting the event in national publications.
Terry Reames of the YMCA of the Upper Pee Dee said that organization would use all A-tax funding for advertising to attract out of town participants to the Y’s six main events, including a triathlon, the popular Turkey Trot, the Lickety Split summer run/walk race, the Loop da Ville bike race, and three annual swim meets. Reames requested $5,000 in accommodations tax funding.
Maryann Mack presented a request for $3,500 to promote the Lamar Egg Scramble Jamboree, the street festival that regularly pulls over 30,000 people into town for food, rides, games, and a jam-packed bill of live music. Based on random sampling of last year’s crowd, Mack estimated that about 50-percent of Jamboree guests are visiting from over 50 miles away.
The committee will also consider these requests:
$9,246 for the Hartsville Community Center Building Commission (Center Theater); $5,000 for the Sep. 3 Darlington Car Hauler Parade; $4,000 for the Sweet Potato Festival; $3,000 for the Society Hill Catfish Festival; $7,750 for Gospel in the Park (staged by the SC African American Heritage Foundation) and a historical marker in Mont Clare honoring Sen. Kay Patterson; $3,000 for the Hartsville Genealogical Research Library; and $8,580 for the Community Rice Festival held by New Vision Community Development.
A request for $19,815 from Darlington County Tourism was withdrawn.
The Darlington County Accommodations Tax Committee will review these requests and convene a final meeting to decide their funding recommendations, which will then be submitted to Darlington County Council for approval. The next A-tax Committee meeting will take place Thursday, April 2 at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.