Boy Scouts wants constitution change to lease facilities at Fayette complex

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Boy Scouts renewed its push for a state constitutional amendment Tuesday that would allow the tax-exempt group to lease facilities, including an 80,000-seat amphitheater, to outside groups at the Summit Bechtel Family National Reserve in Fayette County.There's already talk that Bridge Day festival organizers might be interested in leasing the Boy Scouts' new stadium for concerts. But the Scouts can't lease out the amphitheater and other facilities to outside groups without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status.On Tuesday, Boy Scout leaders urged state lawmakers to pass a resolution asking voters to amend the West Virginia Constitution so the Summit could host events promoted by for-profit organizations."This is an opportunity to bring other people to the area, and for other groups to benefit from the facility," said Steve McGowan, a leading volunteer for the Summit project who also represents the Scouts on legal matters.
The Boy Scouts has proposed amending the constitution's property tax language to allow temporary lease agreements. The amendment would go before West Virginia voters in November 2014.McGowan said the Summit would host only a small number of public events -- mostly concerts -- each year."We aren't looking for an open exemption that would allow the Boy Scouts to run this as some sort of amusement park year-round," McGowan told members of a joint House-Senate finance committee Tuesday. The Scouts also may temporarily lease out other Summit facilities, including camping sites, a "Leadership Excellence Center," "Better Body Health Center," and technology center, McGowan said. During this year's regular legislative session, the Scouts pushed unsuccessfully for a resolution that would put their constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot this November.The amendment requires at least two-thirds approval in the House and Senate. The measure would then go before general election voters, who could pass it with a simple majority of votes.Last winter, a legislative committee held a public hearing to discuss the Boy Scouts' proposal. Teachers unions wanted to know whether the measure would lead to a decrease in property tax revenues that fund schools. Boy Scout leaders said it would not. The state's Roman Catholic diocese also questioned the Boy Scouts proposal.The Senate unanimously advanced the Boy Scouts' resolution, but the measure died in a House committee.
McGowan said the state constitution -- and a 1944 state Supreme Court opinion -- prohibits tax-exempt groups from leasing facilities to for-profit organizations."The community will not have general use of this facility unless it's a charitable institution using it for a charitable purpose," McGowan told lawmakers Tuesday. The Scouts also could only charge such organizations for overhead costs.McGowan was asked whether the Scouts would consider transferring the Summit property to the state, which would lease the site to the organization. McGowan said the organization wouldn't be interested in such a proposal.
The Boy Scouts bought the Fayette County site to "control our own destiny," he said.In previous years, the Scouts leased property in northern Virginia from the federal government for their National Jamboree -- before buying the Garden Ground Mountain site near Glen Jean.  Lawmakers are reviewing the Scout's proposal and are expected to vote on the request for a constitutional amendment again during next year's regular legislative session.The Summit plans to open in July. The site will host the 2013 National Jamboree, an event expected to draw about 40,000 scouts and scout leaders. The Summit will host jamborees every four years.The Scouts also are building a high-adventure base at the Summit. The adventure center will offer mountain biking, zip-lining and other activities.The Boy Scouts of America has spent $160 million on construction so far, with plans to spend an additional $165 million by July 2013, McGowan told lawmakers. About 500 people -- mostly construction workers -- are at the site daily. 
Last month, the Boy Scouts held a "Summit Shakedown," or test run. About 2,000 scouts and scout leaders came Fayette County to assess programs, operations and facilities at the reserve.Also Tuesday, McGowan introduced the Summit's new director, Dan McCarthy, a former vice admiral in the U.S. Navy.Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.
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