Bob Bender stood beside a display table Sunday at the Beaufort Water Festival showing specimens from the Lowcountry Estuarium. Nestled among the plastic aquariums filled with crabs and translucent shrimp sat fliers urging visitors to help save the cash-strapped estuarium by contacting Beaufort County Council.
Bender, the estuarium's curator, took his plea for a one-year accommodations-tax grant of $24,000 to council's Finance Committee on Monday, and though no vote was taken, several councilmen seemed sympathetic to the request.
"I think there's a sense that we shouldn't lose this entity," said Councilman Stu Rodman.
The estuarium's building will be shuttered unless council approves the funding at its next meeting. "It's as simple as that," Bender said. "We close our doors at the end of this month because we do not have rent and utilities for August."
In the past, the estuarium has brought in about $12,000 annually from school programs, but school district budget cuts have erased that funding, Bender said.
Monthly overhead is about $2,000, so the money requested would keep the doors open for about a year. Bender said that would give the group time to restructure, find partners and solicit sponsors for displays and tanks.
A comprehensive plan for the estuarium's future is scheduled to be presented at the July 25 council meeting before a possible vote on funding.
In other business, council members will schedule a work session with Beaufort city leaders to hash out whether the recently independent Beaufort, Port Royal and Sea Island Visitors and Convention Bureau should receive funding as a designated marketing organization.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce is currently the designated marketing organization for both the city and county. It received about $460,000 in accommodations and hospitality taxes from the city and county last year. But visitor bureau officials have said those dollars already flow through the chamber to their organization.
The bureau and chamber officially split earlier this year, but bureau executive director Bob Moquin said his group needs financial support as the designated marketing organization to make the separation complete.
"It's always been contingent on the fact that the DMO money would follow the marketing arm of the group," said Jeff Thomas, the bureau's chairman.
Council members said the county and city should make the decision in sync.
"It's either all or nothing, I think," said Councilman Jerry Stewart. "We need to do this together jointly."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.