Basketball, art and ice projects hoping to reap Wake hotel-motel tax money

mquillin@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2014 

Wake County got a windfall of $6 million in hotel and restaurant taxes last year. Now, three proposed athletic facilities and an art museum are competing to get a piece of it.

County commissioners could decide to fund one, several or none of the proposals based on their ability to generate more tax revenue; enhance the county’s sports, cultural, convention or arts facilities; address unmet needs; fit with the county’s long-range plans; and meet other criteria.

“They’re all good projects,” said Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, who with the rest of the board listened to presentations by promoters of the proposals during a work session this week. “All of them sounded fantastic, exciting to the community and like they could do a lot of good things.”

Wake County and the city of Raleigh each gets $1 million per year from the occupancy and prepared food and beverage taxes – often referred to as hotel-motel taxes – collected in the county.

The city and county formed an agreement in 2004 in which the city can take more than its annual allotment of $1 million to fund the Raleigh Convention Center. But when it does, the county gets to take twice the excess amount. The provision took effect when the Convention Center opened in 2010.

Raleigh took extra funds in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The county is now taking proposals to spend its first payment of $6 million, which it received last fall.

The county has used receipts from the hotel-restaurant tax to fund projects including the Raleigh Convention Center, Marbles Kids Museum, WakeMed Soccer Park, Yates Mill Pond Park, American Tobacco Trail Park, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the N.C. Museum of Art, the N.C. Ballet, Town of Cary Sports Facilities, St. Augustine’s College track and the former RBC Center.

The county took proposals last fall for ways to use the $6 million. A committee of staff and community members judged the proposals according to criteria set by the board, with economic impact being the top criteria. County money cannot make up more than 35 percent of any project’s funding, and no single project can receive more than $3 million. The money can be used only for capital expenses, not operating costs.

Funding requests for 10 projects came in.

Top four projects

The committee ranked them and found these to be the top four:

•  Naismith Legacy Park, Knightdale. This camp would be built on the model of baseball’s Cooperstown Dreams Park, except it would focus on James Naismith’s invention, basketball. Proposed by the nonprofit Naismith Legacy Group in Matthews, the park would include two “basketball villages” with 18 fieldhouses and overnight accommodations for summer youth basketball camp participants. Most of the $10.1 million to build the facility would come from private donations. Promoters asked for $3 million from the county.

•  The Wake County Competition Center, Morrisville. This complex would include two NHL-size ice rinks, a volleyball facility, a gymnastics facility and a practice/physical therapy space. It would serve local indoor sports needs, as well as regional and national amateur and professional events. The $13.99 million project would be primarily funded privately by Ammons Building Corp., with some money from the Town of Morrisville. Promoters asked for $3 million from the county.

•  Gregg Museum of Art & Design, N.C. State University campus. The Gregg Museum has relocated from the NCSU student center to the historic chancellor’s residence on Hillsborough Street. There are plans to expand the home with 15,000 square feet of exhibit space, storage and room for special events such as weddings. The expansion will cost about $9.1 million, coming from the university, the City of Raleigh and private donors. Promoters asked for $2 million from the county.

•  North Main Athletic Campus, Holly Springs. The complex would include a 2,000-seat artificial turf sports stadium with a Coastal League baseball team, two synthetic turf regulation-size soccer fields and 12 tennis courts. Holly Springs would use bond funds, city reserves and borrowed money to fund the $8.28 million project. It asked for $2.8 million from the county.

In February, the committee recommended the county commit $1.5 million to Naismith Legacy Park and reserve the remaining $4.5 million for future eligible projects.

Pitching their projects

Some commission members said promoters of all four of the top-ranked projects should be allowed to present their ideas to the board. They did so at the board’s work session Monday.

Afterward, board Chairman Phil Matthews said the group would need to consider all the information. No date has been set for bringing the choice to a vote.

Morrisville Town Manager Martha Wheelock said she was impressed by the presentations, especially the one for the sports complex in her town.

“We actually think all of the projects are very viable,” she said. “We don’t think anybody asked for money they weren’t worthy of getting. We just think we were the best.”

Alex Miller, vice provost for Arts NC State, hopes the county will help fund the Gregg Museum expansion so that construction can begin earlier. The improved museum and special-event space will bring additional visitors to the area, he said, but he’s more excited about it fulfilling the university’s land-grant mission to serve all people of the state.

“It doesn’t matter what your economic status is,” he said. “You’ll be able to come to this museum and see and touch and study these items free of charge, and have your cultural and intellectual horizons expanded.”

Commissioner Joe Bryan said he hadn’t made up his mind yet which of the projects he liked best, but he said the county “should be looking for big ideas.”

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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