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The Times West Virginian: Amendment to help Scouts keep Summit busy deserves support

— *** Newspaper Endorsements 2014 ***—

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) hopes to bring major activities to southern West Virginia and boost business in the state.

The stage is the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County, a 10,600-acre property situated adjacent to the New River Gorge National River. It’s the new, permanent Boy Scout Jamboree site and home to the Paul R. Christen National High-Adventure Base, which opened in June 2014. Gary Hartley, director of community and governmental relations for the BSA, said the high-adventure base is poised to attract up to 40,000 Scouts each summer, while the Jamboree, held every four years, gathers roughly 45,000 attendees.

The BSA hopes to utilize the property when it’s not in use by Scouts, believing it could host such events as world-class extreme sports and large-scale concerts.

For that to happen, though, the West Virginia Constitution must be amended, and the issue is on this year’s ballot — the “Nonprofit Youth Organization Tax Exemption Support Amendment.”

The amendment would allow the BSA to lease the Summit property as part of for-profit ventures without jeopardizing its current property tax exemption. The amendment holds that for a “nonprofit youth organization” to qualify for the state property tax exemption, the facility must have been built at a cost of at least $100 million. The Summit is currently the only facility in the state qualifying.

The BSA discovered that the state constitution, along with a 1944 West Virginia Supreme Court ruling, hamper the organization’s ability to attract major events to the state. While the nonprofit BSA is currently exempt from property taxes, Hartley said that hosting large-scale for-profit events could jeopardize the BSA’s current property tax exemption under state law.

Representatives of the BSA met with the governor, state tax officials and both the Senate and the House when determining the correct route to take to expand use of the Summit, and Hartley said that a state amendment was the solution gathered from those conversations.

“This amendment will allow us to maintain that property tax exemption if we were to lease out the property for commercial purpose,” he said.

BSA simply does not wants to see the Summit idle for long periods.

“There’s nowhere that you’ve got world-class BMX right next to a skate park, with a stadium that will seat 80,000 people, with rock climbing and shooting sports, and whitewater in the area,” said Hartley. “This really makes it a very unique facility.”

A concern that an unfair business climate, most specifically ACE Adventure Resort and Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), could be created was addressed.

Delegates Margaret Staggers and David Perry, D-Fayette, amended the resolution in the House to add “enabling legislation,” which holds that the amendment would only become effective once the Legislature develops rules and regulations to protect local and regional businesses.

Dave Arnold, co-owner of AOTG, supports the amendment.

“We are for the amendment,” said Arnold. “We think that the Legislature put a good counterweight on it, and we think that will protect us from anything that’s really anti-competitive.”

Arnold said that the BSA has shown a “great partnership” will AOTG thus far, and thinks that allowing large commercial events at the Summit could have exciting results for the state.

“We look at the Boy Scouts as a big cornfield,” said Arnold. “They’re planting the seeds for future people that are going to come to West Virginia and go down the river.”

The protective laws have not been drafted yet, Hartley explained, but he said that the BSA has submitted some suggested guidelines, such as the minimum size of the events, percent of the year that the property could be used and types of events that could be hosted.

“This amendment is about bringing new business to southern West Virginia,” said Hartley. “We’re not looking to compete with existing events that are already occurring in the area; we want to bring new and larger events and activities to West Virginia.”

Those are goals we can enthusiastically support. We urge passage of the amendment that will allow the Boy Scouts of America to keep the Summit busy and boost current and future private business.

Follow The Times West Virginian’s endorsements and news coverage at http://www.timeswv.com/

Editor’s Note: The West Virginia Press Association is compiling political endorsements offered by its member newspapers to give readers a statewide view. For more endorsements, visit https://wvpress.wpengine.com/opinion/endorsementweek2014/

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