Casino complex pitched to Beaufort County civic leadership association

gmartin@islandpacket.comFebruary 23, 2012 

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Hardeeville town manager Bob Nanni took his pitch for a casino and resort complex on the road again Thursday evening, this time to the Lowcountry Council of Governments' Yemassee headquarters.

The project would be within the Hilton Head Lakes development on U.S. 278 and include a 400-room luxury hotel.

Calling it "Jasper County's one chance to join the economic mainstream," Nanni presented the 23 board members at the council's monthly meeting with a litany of statistics and projections of the complex's potential impact on the region.

The presentation was strictly for informational purposes; the council does not intend to adopt a formal position on the development anytime soon, according to Chris Bickley, its executive director.

The council serves Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties as a connection between local governments and some state and federal agencies. Its members include Bluffton mayor Lisa Sulka and Hilton Head Island councilman Bill Ferguson.

"This is not only an opportunity but an obligation, given the positions of the people in attendance tonight," Nanni began. "Some of you may be seeking clarification about this (complex), and that's why I'm here."

He maintained the complex would be of vital economic importance to the region, adding it would create 2,250 on-site jobs and spur a local construction investment of between $300 million and $500 million.

"It's a monster project, and the potential here is really great," he added.

He addressed concerns he'd heard during previous presentations to neighborhood associations. He said the complex would not increase crime locally nor spawn unsavory satellite businesses.

There were few questions after Nanni's 40-minute presentation.

Asked who would fund the new infrastructure the project might require, Nanni said the developers would front all initial costs and that the tax revenues it would generate would fund a capital improvement program for subsequent roadwork.

Another board member asked about the status of the developers' imperative to secure the project's requisite approval.

The development team hopes to submit a formal proposal to Gov. Nikki Haley by the end of 2012. Her endorsement of the complex is required, and might be the largest challenge the developers face.

The complex would be owned by the Cherokee Indians and would also require the approval of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Nanni said the response to the proposal has been almost unanimously supportive so far.

"It seems like some businessmen in the community are against it, for whatever reason," he said. "But surprisingly, not as many as what we'd anticipated."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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