Hilton Head group pushing for island 'renaissance'

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 27, 2012 

Years have passed since Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize and Emmy winners, scholars, CEOs and financiers gathered on Hilton Head Island to confab about pressing issues.

A new group, however, hopes to rekindle that spirit of intellectual exchange -- albeit with far different aims and approach.

The Hilton Head Island Institute hopes to attract more visitors to the area during the fall through a series of lectures, panel discussions and workshops geared toward affluent retirees.

The nine- to 10-day event, which would begin next fall, would be open to the public and draw an expected 1,000 to 2,500 visitors per week, according to institute chairman Allen Ward.

Led by members of the Greater Island Council, the institute was awarded a grant of up to $65,000 by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry last month.

Broken into a $32,500 outright grant and a $32,500 matching grant, the money will be used to plan the "Renaissance at Hilton Head Island."

The event, whose title will likely be changed, will be modeled on successful programs such as the Chautauqua Institution in New York, the Aspen Institute in Colorado and the Matrix Midland Festival in Michigan, according to organizers.

It also would evoke the Renaissance Weekend once held on Hilton Head, although Ward said the institute's program should not be confused with the event that once drew national leaders to the island.

Renaissance Weekend, typically scheduled around New Year's week, was an invitation-only gathering started in 1981 by part-time island residents Philip and Linda Lader. It once drew the likes of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.

The event was moved from Hilton Head in 2001 when the Laders relocated to Charleston after returning from London, where Philip Lader served as U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James.

The new gathering "will be more inclusive and geared toward business owners and retirees, but have that same goal of creating something fun and intellectual," Ward said.

Each week will have a theme and pattern. Themes under consideration include foreign affairs, regional history, environmental community planning, and small-business development, according to Ward, who also is president of Port Royal land-planning and engineering firm Ward Edwards.The idea sprang from a list of recommendations unveiled in 2010 by a mayoral task force to stem economic decline on Hilton Head. Among the suggestions was an institute to study community health, ecology, planning and design.

"We want to enrich the lives of year-round residents and broaden the island's appeal to tourists and prospective residents, providing a complement to golf, tennis and the beach," Ward said. "We hope to make Hilton Head a world-class destination for arts, culture and education."

It received backing from Community Vision Hilton Head, a nonprofit group that has pushed since 2006 for a new indoor-outdoor performing arts center on the island.

Walter J. Graver, president of Community Vision, believes there is a "groundswell" on the island to develop a year-round program of artistic and intellectual events.

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

"Baby boomers are looking for a place to be active not only physically, but where there will be intellectual stimulation," Graver said. "That's why university towns have seen an influx of late of baby-boomer retirees. The institute provides the activity to justify building a suitable venue that generates new economic stimulus."

Ward says the institute's aim is not to raise buildings, but to establish programs to create demand for future performance halls and offices.

Related content

  1. Renaissance Weekend
  2. Community Foundation of the Lowcountry
  3. Community Vision of Hilton Head
  4. Chautauqua Institution
  5. Hilton Head Council ponders giving $75,000 to study concert hall plan: Sept. 6, 2011
  6. Should the Greater Island Council do more of its work out of the shadows?: March 5, 2011

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