CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Nov. 4, West Virginia voters will decide if they want to amend the state Constitution to benefit nonprofit organizations that focus on “adventure, educational or recreational activities for young people” and also own property worth at least $100 million.
If that sounds like a really specific constitutional amendment, that’s because it is. It was written with just one group and one location in mind: The Boy Scouts of America and its Summit Bechtel Reserve, in Fayette County.
The amendment would allow the Boy Scouts to rent out the summit to for-profit enterprises while still remaining a nonprofit, exempt from state property taxes.
Last spring, the West Virginia House of Delegates voted 94-2 to put the proposed constitutional amendment on November’s ballot. The Senate passed the resolution unanimously.
The Summit Bechtel Reserve — an outdoors adventure extravaganza of zip lines, ropes courses, mountain bike trails and more, built on 10,600 acres near the New River Gorge — is the permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree. It hosted about 35,000 Scouts for its first Jamboree last summer and will continue to host them every four years. During off years, the Boy Scouts hosts summer camps and similar activities at the summit.
The Boy Scouts wants to host other events, as well — things like concerts in the 80,000-seat amphitheater, mountain bike races on the trails and skateboard contests on its ramps and parks. The organization would use the profits from those events to maintain or improve the property or to offset expenses from the facility, said Gary Hartley, the director of community and government relations for the summit.
According to state law, though, if the organization leases its facilities to commercial enterprises, those facilities lose their tax exempt status.
The summit will not consider hosting commercial events — and paying the associated property taxes — without the constitutional amendment, Hartley said.
He said that the property is assessed at about $350 million and would yield an annual property tax bill of $5 million if it lost the exemption…