Patriots Point sees improving finances, more visitors

Patriots Point officials said visitors to the attraction's aircraft carrier Yorktown (above) and other waterfront exhibits were up 3 percent in the last six months of 2011.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Patriots Point reported Wednesday the state-owned naval museum spent less, earned more and attracted more visitors during the last six months of 2011.

"Everything is going really well," Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette said during his mid-fiscal-year report to the board during its monthly meeting on the aircraft carrier Yorktown.

Expenses came in about $385,000 under budget, revenue rose more than $204,000 and attendance swelled to nearly 127,000, up 3 percent from the year-earlier period.

The waterfront tourist attraction also booked 91 special events during the period -- three times as many as the prior comparable six months, Burdette said.

Patriots Point hopes to build on the momentum by injecting $30,000 into a local marketing campaign.

"We are in a very positive position and it is, in our opinion, time to be as aggressive as we possibly can be relative to attracting first-time and repeat customers," Burdette said.

Part of that momentum will come from the return of the warship Laffey, which is set to be reberthed next week beside other wartime vessels in Charleston Harbor, including the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown, which serves as the centerpiece of the naval and maritime museum.

To help attract more event business, the board approved $32,000 to improve an outdoor area known as "The Grove." The work will include adding grass, irrigation, lighting and a new power supply. It should be completed by April, Burdette said.

Another $15,000 will go toward improving the sound system in the theater aboard the Yorktown and new display cases, flooring and turnstiles in the recently revamped gift shop.

Burdette also scuttled a proposal to add campsites on land to handle the overflow of requested bookings Patriots Point receives each year from groups that want to spend the night on the Yorktown. He said the move would require a new $300,000 bathroom facility and the financial return would not be worth it at this time.

"I think it would be a bad investment," Burdette said.

Patriots Point also postponed a request to approve a conceptual master plan for the area around a proposed 93-room expansion at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, which is on property owned by the maritime museum.

Some board members questioned changes to a boardwalk planned around the hotel and wanted more time to study the revised proposal before voting on it.

The additions also will include a new restaurant and ballroom, said Oliver Rooskens, the hotel's general manager. The four-story addition will be linked to the existing 130-room lodging at the end of Patriots Point Road. Construction could start in April and be completed by August 2013, Rooskens said.