Audit: Ships need boatload of cash
MOUNT PLEASANT — A new audit of the Patriots Point Development Authority makes several recommendations about how the state-owned attraction can raise more money.
It also restates the obvious: Without doing so, Patriots Point cannot maintain the aircraft carrier Yorktown and its other ships over the long term.
Executive Director Mac Burdette said Thursday he was as pleased with what the Legislative Audit Council did not find, such as any evidence of fraud, theft, waste or ineffective leadership.
“We know the long-term stability of Patriots Point with regard to maintaining our ships is the big elephant sitting in the room,” he said. “Nobody can dodge that one.”
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell asked for the audit to evaluate Patriots Point’s business plan, revenues and its ability to repay a $9.2 million state loan for repairing the destroyer Laffey.
“The audit indicates that there are some unknowns and a rough road ahead,” he said, “but the response of the agency to the audit is very positive.”
Here are some audit findings — and responses from Patriots Point:
Medal of Honor Museum
Earlier this year, the Patriots Point board agreed to support moving the Medal of Honor museum from inside the Yorktown to a nearby site on land. The authority would not build it, but would offer about 3.5 acres at a very reduced cost. The audit recommends charging the museum group full-market price, but Burdette disagreed.
“The Medal of Honor Museum is probably the best shot we have at a game-changer,” he said. “Sometimes you have to incentivize a project to make it work.”
One immediate challenge facing the authority is figuring out how to repay a $9.2 million state loan that funded emergency repairs to the destroyer Laffey two years ago.
Burdette said he is working with state lawmakers on a plan to pay back that loan over 25 years.
“We’ve determined we can pay back $500,000 a year without it doing any damage to what we’re doing. Our revenues are going up,” he said.
Visitors walking aboard the Yorktown are greeted with a donation box, but the audit said Patriots Point could do more along the lines of memberships, education programs, e-commerce, joint ticketing referrals and grants.
Burdette noted Patriots Point is reorganizing its fundraising organizations, including the Yorktown Association and the Patriots Point Foundation.
“We’ve never been very successful raising a large amount of funds through our foundation system — no offense to those good people who served on the foundation board for many, many years,” he said. “That has got to change. We agree with the audit team on that 100 percent.”
The audit recommends Patriots Point spend $3.5 million of its $4.2 million reserve fund to save the rusting submarine Clamagore.
Burdette said the Clamagore contributes little to ticket sales, and that much of an investment would leave the agency without money for other emergencies.
“There are only two museums in the nation that have more than two ships, and there is a reason for that,” he said. “I’m afraid the Clamagore is going to have to go by the wayside.”
One last hope: The Clamagore Association will raise needed cash for her repair.
The audit’s summary says Patriots Point cannot sustain the Yorktown and other vessels “without funding from an outside source, such as federal or state government.”
But with the fiscal cliff looming and federal earmarks extinct for now, a federal bailout is unlikely, at best, and McConnell said the state can’t help, either. In fact, it wants its Laffey loan repaid.
Burdette said the agency’s business plan can succeed if it harnesses the potential income from developing and redeveloping its 360 acres. Burdette was disappointed the audit didn’t address those plans in as much detail.
“Mount Pleasant went through a significant economic boom over last 20 years,” said Burdette, who was town administrator for most of that time. In the same period, “nothing to speak of was built at Patriots Point. Why? You have to ask. That’s what has been missing.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.