Patriots Point board could grow

Without major work on its hull, the destroyer Laffey could sink within a year.

Hoping to generate more discussion about the future of Patriots Point, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell has introduced a bill to expand the governing board of the aging state-owned military attraction.

McConnell suggests adding three additional members appointed by Columbia leaders to the six-member Patriots Point Development Authority. McConnell, House Speaker Bobby Harrell and State Adjutant General Stanhope Spears would each appoint one new member.

But McConnell said the specifics matter less than the conversation.

"I'm not wedded to anything in this bill," he said. "That's just to get the dialogue flowing. There are some great challenges ahead, and we just cannot let Patriots Point fail."

McConnell said he decided to introduce the legislation after Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman, who stepped down Wednesday, expressed concern about keeping the attraction alive.

Patriots Point officials announced earlier this year a plan to repair the fleet and redevelop the grounds at a $64 million price tag, though they provided no means for gathering the necessary funds.

Since then the dire circumstances of the authority's four warships became clearer. One, the destroyer Laffey, continues to deteriorate and could sink within a year without millions of dollars in work.

The current board structure includes three appointments by the governor, including the chairman. House and Senate leaders get one recommendation each. The mayor of Mount Pleasant also gets a seat on the board.

The authority's current chairman, Charleston attorney John B. Hagerty, said he would like to see tourism industry experts join the board.

"All I know is I want the most help I can get with the broadest reach and deepest reach," Hagerty said.

Joel Sawyer, press secretary for Gov. Mark Sanford, said the governor would consider the legislation, now in committee, but had no compelling reason to sign or veto it.

"Patriots Point has some financial challenges that go beyond how many people sit on the board," Sawyer said.