Stingrays subsidy approved by Council

North Charleston City Council got one step closer Thursday to offering a subsidy to the South Carolina Stingrays that could end up costing the city a half-million dollars.

Council voted 8-1, with Councilman Todd Olds casting the lone dissenting vote, on the initial reading of a proposal to give the hockey team up to $250,000 or half of their annual losses, whichever is less, for the next two years. The agreement also would extend the Stingrays’ current lease contract with the North Charleston Coliseum for two years with an option for a third year. The deal would start in July.

The proposal needs to pass a second reading to become final.

Council passed the motion without discussion, but talk on the topic became heated at times during a special finance committee meeting before the Council meeting.

Olds reiterated his public criticism that the subsidy was corporate welfare.

“It’s not fair to the business world,” he said. “Everybody is looking at this as a precedent.”

Councilmen Bob King and Doug Stigler, who both objected to the proposal last week during a finance committee meeting, changed their votes Thursday.

“I’ve had some problems with this ordinance,” King said. “But let me say that based on my conversation with (Summey) today and the potential of what this company is going to do with investments in our community, ... I think the investment they will make in the future far exceeds this.”

Jonathan Zucker, whose family took over sole ownership of the team in 2011, said earlier this week that the Stingrays have lost $400,000 to $700,000 each year since the team first took the ice in 1993. Even when the Stingrays were drawing 9,000 fans per game, the franchise didn’t break even, Zucker said. The team averages 3,304 fans per home game this season.

Anita Zucker, Jonathan’s mother, has a net worth of about $2.6 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.

Mayor Keith Summey said it’s good business for the city to help out the Stingrays. The money will likely come from the operating costs of the Coliseum, he said.

The Stingrays pay about $6,000 per game to play at the North Charleston Coliseum. The team plays between 38 and 42 games annually, including the playoffs, at the facility.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.