Patriots Point loan extension to be topic of Dec. 14 meeting

MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - The South Carolina Budget and Control Board will take up the matter of extending the terms of the loan for repairs done at the Patriots Point maritime museum.

Patriots Point is asking for a one-year extension on its multi-million dollar loan to save a sinking ship, a letter released Tuesday afternoon shows.

The authority borrowed the $9.2 million for repairs in June 2009 amid fears that the destroyer sailors dubbed "The Ship That Would Not Die" would sink in a hurricane because its hull was leaking — and that asbestos and pollution inside it would contaminate Charleston's waters.

Those repairs were completed in February.

In a letter to the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, Patriots Point Authority Chairman John Hagerty asked for an extension based on the current ongoing development of Patriots Point's master plan.  He stated that an extension would allow the Authority to move forward with its master plan and create a realistic and workable plan to repay the loan to the State.

The development board was supposed to repay the loan Dec. 1.

The Associated Press reported Monday that state officials were irked over the loan going into default.

"We fully intend to satisfy that $9 million loan. It just can't be done on Dec. 1," said Mac Burdette, executive director of the Patriots Point Development Authority.

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom says the authority is breaking a promise in a deal that should never have been struck.

"It's a decision that was made with the heart and not with the head," said Eckstrom, who argued last year against approving the loan from the state insurance reserve fund because it relied too much on the hope of federal spending. "There wasn't enough courage to say we can't do it," he said.

At the time, Patriots Point expected federal money to cover the loan with help from U.S. Reps. Henry Brown and U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. A clampdown on federal earmarks and change in control of the House has few expecting money now.

"Hopefully they will think it's a reasonable proposal," Burdette said.

Burdette says the hope with the extension is to come up with a viable business plan as well as pay interest towards the loan during the year.

"Everybody at the time hoped there would be some Federal funds available that would help repay that loan but they did not materialize," Burdette said.

Burdette says the board will also continue to look at options like possibly making use in the future of the more than 300 acres adjacent to the naval ships to bring more revenue.

"The land has tremendous options and possibilities but again the board is going to be very careful when it comes to doing development. There are a lot of hoops to jump through were talking about a 15 to 20 year development plan," Burdette said.

Over the next 25 to 50 years, the USS Yorktown will need $80-100 million worth of work and maintenance. The Naval and Maritime Museum brings in more than 250,000 people every year.

Somewhat ironically, the museum's flagship attraction, the USS Yorktown, celebrated its birthday Dec. 1. On that date in 1941, the keel was first laid in Newport News, Va.

Copyright 2010 WCSC and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.