Hilton Head looks to other towns for revitalization ideas

September 26, 2011 

Public-private partnerships in other parts of the state might provide a model for the Hilton Head Island Town Council as it tries to revitalize aging commercial centers.

The town's Planning and Development Standards Committee heard presentations Monday from economic-development officials from Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill and the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

Their message: have a vision, use public investment to leverage private money, be willing to take risks, be persistent and have patience.

"Competition is so fierce now, you have no window to be unprepared," said Lowcountry Economic Alliance executive director Kim Statler. Her group recently formed a steering committee that is working with consultants on economic-development strategy. A redevelopment authority or economic-development corporation could play a role in that strategy.

Greenville, for example, lured millions in private investment along the Reedy River from 2005 to 2008, thanks to efforts by the Greenville Local Development Corporation, said Greg Strait, the city's economic analyst.

The nonprofit organization provides a revolving loan fund and grants for new sewer lines and improvements to streetscapes and roads to help companies expand or relocate.

"It's a way to tap into members of the community -- local banking and real estate experts -- to pull together public resources with private leadership to fill a need and provide assistance where a city or town by itself may not be able to," Strait said.

Mayor Drew Laughlin said he hopes the town moves in such a direction. An economic-development corporation would provide an advocate and mechanism to carry out redevelopment, while involving the broader community, Laughlin said.

"It also gives you flexibility to do some things that the town itself can't do," he said. "It creates a go-to place for ideas and can help evaluate and sift through ideas."

The committee postponed discussion outlining the town's role in economic development.

"As we look to the future, we need to customize an economic entity that fits our particular personality to move ahead," said Councilman Bill Harkins, a committee member. "Other communities are doing this, and it's a competitive process ... but we need an economic model that says the investment is good for the investor, the owner/operator and the resident."

Hilton Head turns to Columbia, Greenville for economic-development ideas: Oct. 18, 2010

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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