COLUMBIA — A panel of powerful state lawmakers clashed today over whether to give Patriots Point more time to pay back a $9.2 million state loan or to sell the valuable waterfront property surrounding the naval and maritime museum.
The Joint Bond Review Committee ultimately agreed to give Patriots Point a two-year extension on the loan, which was due to be repaid in December. The agreement came with the promise that the museum would pay $500,000 now.
Between now and 2013, Patriots Point must develop a plan to pay the loan back in full while interest continues to accrue.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said his trust has been restored in Patriots Point and he urged the committee to approve the extension, so the new management and restructured board can develop a plan to get the museum back on track.
"It is the last chance to save Patriots Point," McConnell said.
But Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said the state has been patient enough, and it's time to "fold this project."
"I don't know if there is any intention at all of paying it back," Peeler said.
Peeler said Patriots Point exemplifies what is wrong with South Carolina government.
Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he has no question in his mind that the state will get its money back. Patriots Point either repays the loan, or the state ends up with valuable waterfront property, he said.
McConnell said Patriots Point's promise to pay $500,000 up front with the development of a new master plan is a sign that the museum is taking a new direction.
"Things have changed," he said. "Instead of asking for a free ride, they're saying, 'This is what we can afford.' "
Patriots Point Chairman Ray Chandler said after the meeting that the extension is the first large step toward a meaningful reorganization of the finances and the structure of Patriots Point. He added that the board is redefining the mission and reaffirming to South Carolinians that Patriots Point is a valuable asset when it is managed correctly.
"It is a responsibility that we take very seriously," Chandler said.
In other business, the committee agreed to provide a grant through the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank to Berkeley County worth up to $6.5 million to complete the Sheep Island interchange on Interstate 26.
The bank will also provide a $6.01 million grant for improvements to the Mark Clark Expressway and Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.
Read more in Thursday's editions of The Post and Courier.