Developers abandon plan to build sports academy at Bluffton site

gmartin@islandpacket.comDecember 12, 2011 

By next fall, a new sports academy serving about 200 middle- and high-school students will open in southern Beaufort County, according to the CEO of Junior Sports Corp. on Hilton Head Island.

But it won't be at the Old Carolina Golf Club in Bluffton, after developers recently withdrew their plans to build a projected $12 million complex on 23.5 acres off Buck Island Road.

In September, representatives of Hope Ventures LLC applied for a zoning change and a master-plan change from the town of Bluffton for the land's commercial redevelopment. However, the developers did not attempt to get on agendas for Town Council meetings in November or December to secure the final approvals.

Last week, a Hope Ventures representative confirmed in an email to Bluffton's Growth Management Department that the developers had pulled out of the project.

Attempts Monday to contact Mark Guenther, Hope Ventures managing member, were unsuccessful.

Members of the Traditions at Old Carolina homeowners association -- where a 48-unit townhouse complex was to be built as part of the academy -- had voted 70-2 to change the community's bylaws to allow the campus.

"The sad thing is, the public in Bluffton were overwhelmingly supportive of this," said Peter Orrell, CEO of the academy's parent company, Junior Sports Corp., which worked with Hope Ventures on the proposal.

"We do have a number of contingency plans and are still very much committed to this immediate area," he added, saying that developers had identified four other nearby locations for the sports academy.

Orrell maintained that the complex, which would include a consolidated campus for his company's operations around Bluffton and Hilton Head, would still be ready for a grand opening next fall.

The Junior Sports Corp. operates the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy, the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy and the private Heritage Academy on Hilton Head.

"This is a bump in the road, but not an unanticipated one," Orrell said, citing the difficulties of building a development during a slow economy.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said she was caught off guard by the developer's decision and is unsure what prompted it.

"They put on such a PR blitz on property owners (in Traditions at Old Carolina)," Sulka said. "They were so gung-ho ... and did so much work getting the community involved and excited."

Town management had worked with the developers for several years identifying potential locations for the campus, Sulka said.

She said the developer's decision would likely disappoint many in Bluffton who had been looking forward to the boost to the local economy the academy might have generated.

"I was surprised," she said. "It would have been great for the community."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Golf academy plans to build $8 million campus in Bluffton, September 5, 2011

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