When the eyes of city officials get bigger than their collective wallets, it has been up to the city’s enterprise program to fill in the shortfall. Must of the eight projects actually don’t make money, but two — parking fees and table rentals at the City Market — have more than paid for the rest. They’ve provided nearly $2 million in 2007 and $1.75 million in 2008 to pay for other city needs, helping to shore up the budget in lieu of a tax increase.
But the budget for 2009 puts the extra money coming out of those accounts at only $356,000, and the loss has forced the city to pull from rainy day funds to cover costs. While a legion of city and local tourism officials could sing the praises of any of the five programs that don’t turn a profit, they’re collectively a nearly $900,000 drain on the city budget.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers of the enterprise program, and the potential reasons for the budget crunch.
Parking: The loss in parking revenues seems to be tied to two issues. The first is a 55 percent jump in rent at the Cumberland Street garage. The second is a drop of nearly $800,000 in income from the city’s parking garages.
The city is increasing on-street parking fines, hoping people will shift their habits toward parking in the garages, but these projections suggest that kind of change will take time — like more than a year.
City Market: Once a dependable revenue stream for the city, the coffers have started to dry up after a philosophical turn regarding the City Market’s objective — with the city hoping to transform it from a tourist trap to a regional shopping destination. The city has hired new management and has committed to hundreds of thousands of dollars in rehab, cutting income from the venture by 75 percent.
But capital improvements are short term costs and the city is expected to increase rent collections from market vendors by nearly $500,000 this year, suggesting the market could return to larger profitability in the next few years.
The Old Slave Mart Museum: A drain on the city budget in its formative years, the museum is actually expected to turn a small profit this year, with both sales and ticket admission outpacing projections in 2008.
Joe Riley Jr. Ballpark: The home of the Charleston River Dogs continues to be a drain on the city’s bottom line. It’s expected to cost the city $83,000 more than it brings in next year.
Angel Oak: Gift shop sales provide much of the money needed to maintain and operate the historic Johns Island landmark, but the city will have to pull $42,753 from elsewhere in the budget to cover its costs. Interestingly, the city only receives about $6,000 a year in contributions to the preservation of the site.
Municipal Auditorium: Revenues are down 12 percent this year, largely due to a nearly $100,000 drop in local hospitality and state accommodations grants. The auditorium has cut costs to make up for the loss, but continues to be a nearly $700,000 drain on city coffers.
Charleston Visitors Center: For the last two years, the visitors center largely paid for itself, but a drop in ticket sales and gift shop revenue — without a corresponding cut in expenses — is leaving a $40,000 hole in the center’s nearly $950,000 budget.
Municipal Golf Course: This recreational opportunity on James Island covers most of it’s expenses through admissions and merchandise sales (including range balls), but the 2009 budget does suggest a slight dip in sales, requiring $7,000 in additional city cash to balance the budget.