Hilton Head Council ponders giving $75,000 to study concert hall plan

September 6, 2011 

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A nonprofit group's effort to build a 1,500-seat concert hall and amphitheater on Hilton Head Island got a lukewarm reception from Town Council.

Council voted 6-1, with Kim Likins opposed, to ask the town manager to find $75,000 in the budget to possibly fund Community Vision of Hilton Head's continued studies for a new indoor-outdoor performing arts center. Council said it will consider the group's request, but held off on actually awarding the money. That decision will be made a future council meeting after the town manager has determined where they money might come from out of the budget.

So far the group, formed in 2006, has received $109,000 in contributions. Of that, about $89,000 has been spent on a consultant studying market demand and working with a land planner. Board member Dan Castro said the group needs $135,000 to complete conceptual plans and cost estimates, gauge community support, and develop a business plan and fundraising effort.

Such a center would enrich the lives of year-round residents and broaden the island's appeal to tourists and retirees, said board member Dan Castro.

"Hilton Head is getting behind. Other major tourist destinations in the U.S. are doing this," Castro said. "Hilton Head is right for this."

He said the center would also meet increasing demand to provide a larger venue for lectures, panel discussions and workshops geared toward retirees.

For example, the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head, which brings speakers to the island to discuss U.S. foreign policy and international issues, has outgrown its space at First Presbyterian Church, with crowds of more than 750.

But it's still not clear how much the center would cost or who would build and operate it.

A Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce task force studied the issue about five years ago and determined a 1,500-seat venue couldn't be supported by arts groups because they don't stage enough events. Two previous attempts in the past 15 years or so to build performing arts centers on Hilton Head failed.

Castro contended a consultant has determined that more than 200 programs could be presented each year with a 1,500-seat hall that would have moveable walls that open to a grass amphitheater. It would attract national acts and generate as much as $50 million in revenue, he said.

Some Town Council members were apprehensive, as local arts and cultural groups have leaned more on town tax revenue to supplement operations, while ticket sales and donations have slumped. Mayor Drew Laughlin warned the group not to expect the town to contribute beyond helping with the study.

"If we are serious about enhancing our arts offerings and having people see us as an arts destination, we should" help with the study, Laughlin said. "But it would be wrong to think there will be public money to build it, program it, operate it and maintain it."

Likins said she was concerned the center would benefit a few arts organizations, such as the orchestra and choral society, but exclude theater groups that need to move sets and scenery.

Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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Group pushes for concert hall on Hilton Head: Aug. 6, 2011

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