[image-1]Organizers for the Medal of Honor Bowl, an inaugural all-star football game set for Jan. 11 at the The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium, are seeking public funds from Charleston-area local governments to help support the event.
Because the NCAA has a moratorium on college bowl games in South Carolina in objection to the the Confederate flag flying on the State House grounds, organizers for the Medal of Honor Bowl have been able to sidestep it by making the event an all-star game instead. That means anyone who plays will have used up their college eligibility by kickoff and will be a professional prospect for the NFL draft.
Boosters so far have secured $75,000 for the weeklong event from two local governments. On Nov. 7, Charleston County Council voted unanimously to give $50,000. (Council member Henry Darby was absent.) The money came out of the county’s contingency account, which has a balance of $200,000.
On Nov. 13, Mt. Pleasant Town Council voted to give $25,000 to support the game after organizers asked for $50,000.
Linda Page, the newly elected mayor of Mt. Pleasant, says $50,000 would have made up 10 percent of the town’s accommodations tax fund for the year, so they only voted to give half.
“It was just a lot to ask for an unfunded request,” Page says, adding that the town usually makes such funding decisions on a quarterly basis. “We were doing the best we could for them … We run a tight ship over here in Mt. Pleasant.”
Funds generated from the game will go to the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project. That planned museum would be on the U.S.S. Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant.
The City of Charleston hasn’t yet voted on whether or not to give any public funds, according to city spokeswoman Cameron Pollard.
“We understand that the organizers of the Medal of Honor Bowl will be asking all municipalities for money, but that is all we know at this point,” she says.
North Charleston’s finance committee will take up the proposal next Thursday, says that city’s mayoral spokesman Ryan Johnson.
Reached Nov. 14, North Charleston City Councilman Ron Brinson said it was the first he’d heard of organizers asking for public money.
“I assume this is happening fast,” Brinson said.
Boosters are pitching the event as a post-season college all-star game to showcase top players eligible for the NFL draft. It will feature a bowl-like atmosphere with different events taking place all week before the Saturday game. Organizers told Charleston County Council they hope to draw 10,000 attendees.
The Charleston Area Sports Commission, the nonprofit group organizing it and requesting public funding, hopes locals will see a $3.8 million financial impact, or $380 spent per ticketholder, which they say would come during a slow period on the area’s tourism calendar. Invitations will go out to nearly 100 players, primarily in the Southeast. Those already invited include Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and USC quarterback Connor Shaw. Whether they’ll commit to play in Charleston remains to be seen as top-tier players might also have opportunities in other games such as the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl or the East-West Shrine game.
Gary Santos, a newly-elected Mt. Pleasant town council member who is also a volunteer for the group organizing the game, voted Nov. 13 to give $25,000. He says it’s a heads-in-beds give and take.
“When people come in and they stay in hotels they pay the hospitality tax, which goes to municipalities to be able to bring in tourism,” he says. “That’s the idea. You want to bring in tourism and the heads in beds is what generates these funds. It’s not coming out of the general fund. It’s coming out of tourists that are coming and visiting us and staying with us. You use those funds to try and generate more tourists to come in to make more money with it.”
Organizers hope the game becomes an annual event.
Santos says this year it’s expected to fill 6,700 hotel rooms throughout the area.
“Having the Medal of Honor here, Mt. Pleasant stood to really gain an additional accommodations tax from people coming and staying with us,” he says. For his part, Santos is happy with the $25,000 Mt. Pleasant Town Council gave for the event, but says the $50,000 the organization requested would have been better.
Whether public money from local governments helping fund the game will be a winner for taxpayers is a question that’s hard to answer at the outset, says Greg LeRoy. He runs the Washington, D.C. group Good Jobs First, which provides information and best practices on state and local job subsidies. LeRoy says he’s skeptical about tourism as an economic development strategy. He says when local governments are being pitched claims about getting a net taxpayer benefit in such deals they should be meticulous about making sure those claims are apples to apples.
“If you’re talking about public expenditures of $50,000, the question is, could you reasonably expect the city to gain more than that in total tax revenues associated with the incremental increase in tourism that would occur?” he says. “You’ve got to really know your baseline then because you know that Charleston’s a pleasant destination that some people are going to come to anyway and therefore some people who would have come anyway are going get displaced by the low vacancy rates that are going to occur if you’ve got a crowd coming for this event.”
Tom McQueeney, chairman of the local organizing committee of the Charleston Area Sports Commission, didn’t return phone messages left at his office by press time.