2011 top business story: Heritage tournament rescued from brink of collapse

gmartin@islandpacket.comDecember 28, 2011 

While many golf fans were glued to their televisions June 16 watching the opening round of the U.S. Open, a small but dedicated group of them was on hand for a press conference at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.

Persistence had paid off for Heritage Classic Foundation officials and others who had worked to end two years of doubt and worry, as they announced that afternoon that the Heritage had secured a five-year sponsorship deal.

Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing had stepped in to sponsor the PGA Tour event, saving it from what appeared to be sure demise.

The tournament had a 42-year history but faced an uncertain future when Verizon didn't renew its contract as title sponsor after the 2010 event. This year's tournament was played without a title sponsor, using reserve funds and loans from local government.

The tournament's salvation was voted the top business story of 2011 in southern Beaufort County by the staff of The Island Packet.

More than six months after that announcement, the local community is still basking in the good news.

In November, the Sea Pines Men's Club hosted a luncheon honoring Gov. Nikki Haley, who joked that she wouldn't be invited to her in-laws' home on Hilton Head if she couldn't help secure a new sponsor for the tournament.

At the event's Sponsor Day earlier this month, tournament director Steve Wilmot became emotional when speaking about the harrowing months he'd endured, saying, "If there's ever been a year where thanks truly need to be given out, it's this one."

Next year's RBC Heritage presented by Boeing will be April 9 to 15.

Other top stories:

2. SHELTER COVE MALL CHANGES HANDS

The long-languishing Shelter Cove Mall on Hilton Head, which skirted foreclosure in 2010, got a new owner this year. A real estate affiliate of The Kroger Co. purchased the 42-acre property and 300,000-square-foot mall Aug. 10 for about $17.3 million, almost $7 million below its assessed market value. Development plans for the property are still being deliberated.

3. TANGER OUTLET 1 REOPENS

Tanger Outlet 1 in Bluffton reopened March 31 following a one-year, $50 million rebuild that created about 30,000 more square feet of retail space. The ribbon-cutting ceremony brought together the unlikely pair of Gov. Haley and "Dancing With the Stars" celebrity Derek Hough, though the governor didn't indulge in any of that weekend's dance-centric events, including a Fred Astaire Dance Studio demonstration and a performance by the University of South Carolina's dance team.

4. YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO HEAR ME NOW

Residents and consumers have long complained about poor cellphone coverage on Hilton Head, and in January the town's Planning Commission recommended a 140-foot-tall cell tower for AT&T to help combat the problem. The solution remains a work in progress -- the tower's implementation has been delayed until July -- but the town continues to work with cellphone companies and private communities to improve the long-maligned reception issue.

5. COLIGNY PLANS UNVEILED

A 150-room hotel and nine-acre park with a lagoon were the focal points of a conceptual plan unveiled in November to create a new village to revive a stagnant Coligny Beach commercial district. The plan also calls for street construction to connect Lagoon Road to South Forest Beach Drive and North Forest Beach Drive. Redeveloping the Coligny area had long been a priority for the town, and Mayor Drew Laughlin spoke earlier this month of a "sense of urgency" in beginning the overhaul.

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