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County Council approves funding for Penn Center renovation project

By Mindy Lucas

Despite the concerns of at least one council member, Beaufort County Council has given preliminary approval to an ordinance that would increase and fund a major restoration and renovation project for Penn Center, on St. Helena Island.

Council members voted to pass the ordinance, which would appropriate up to $822,000 for the project, on first reading at its Monday, Oct. 28 meeting.

The funds would come from local accommodations taxes and would go toward Phase I of the construction project, which will include building repairs, improvements and upgrades to many of the center’s historic buildings.

Council member Chris Hervochon raised concerns over the funding and a tax notice the center had received.

The center received a letter from the S.C. Department of Revenue saying the center owed back taxes for some nine years, the center’s interim executive director Marion Burns said at the meeting. However, the center maintains it does not owe any taxes and has until Nov. 27 to formally respond to the letter, he said.

“So we do not have a tax problem,” Burns said.

York Glover, Sr. acknowledged past issues in the management of the center’s finances but said the funding of the construction project would be handled through the county’s normal procurement process. Funds, he noted, would be held by the county until it was time to pay contractors.

“No money would go any place else other than those buildings,” he said.

Glover went on to say that the center is taking strides to bring Penn into a new era to make sure Penn is on a solid foundation.

“They are working with a very prominent foundation that’s doing their feasibility study and management plan,” he said. “However the buildings are there and the buildings need help.”

Council chairman Stu Rodman said he was in favor of approving the funding because the center needed “a fair amount of work” and the longer the county delays, the more it would cost to restore them, he said.

“And I think as that is done, it will help them increase the number of visitors that are coming, so it’s a good investment,” he said.

The ordinance passed 10-1 with Hervochon voting against it.

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