State lawmakers overrode the governor's veto to expand the board of directors at Patriots Point, as the state-owned tourist attraction looks toward an uncertain future.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell introduced the bill more than a year ago to add three members to the six-person Patriots Point Development Authority.
Since then, the Mount Pleasant visitor attraction has borrowed $9 million from state coffers for emergency repairs to the World War II destroyer Laffey and has moved forward with developing a comprehensive master plan in hopes of transforming the military maritime museum into a thriving tourist draw.
Officials have no means to repay the state loan, let alone revamp the entire property, which fronts Charleston Harbor. McConnell said he wants to see people with management and business experience added to the board.
"We have gone along with the existing model for decades, and we are unhappy
with where Patriots Point is at this hour," McConnell said. "This is part of our effort to try to get a change in direction over there."
The new board makeup will include members appointed by McConnell, the speaker of the House and the state adjutant general. McConnell said he decided to introduce the legislation after former Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman expressed concern about keeping the attraction alive.
The governor currently appoints three members, including the chairman. House and Senate leaders get one recommendation each, and Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails also gets a seat on the board.
Ben Fox, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, expressed disappointment in the General Assembly's decision.
"Although the current board may have its detractors, it generally has not been accused of being political in nature," Fox said. "This bill threatens to change that perception, as board members might be seen as answering to their particular sponsor."
Dick Trammell, Patriots Point's executive director, said the board took a neutral position on the expansion but preferred representation from all of the state's congressional districts.
"Patriots Point belongs to the people of South Carolina," Trammell said. "So we'd like for the whole state to take pride in what we have here."
The Patriots Point's board next meets Tuesday and plans to discuss loan repayment and its new budget.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.