Hilton Head neighborhood group opposes plans to bring USCB to Coligny

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMarch 15, 2013 

Plans to build classrooms for the University of South Carolina Beaufort on Hilton Head Island have upset some Forest Beach residents, who believe a park would make better use of the property.

They also worry the USCB proposal means less parking and more congestion in and around their neighborhood.

Hilton Head Island Town Council approved conceptual plans in August for a USCB classroom building near Coligny Beach, part of an effort to redevelop the area. The building would be on about 10 acres of undeveloped land on Pope Avenue.

However, members of the Forest Beach Owners Association executive board say the property should be turned into a park large enough to accommodate public concerts and festivals. The park could be a magnet for activity, much like Forsyth Park in Savannah, they argue.

"This is our one piece of green space in the neighborhood," association president Jack Daly said of the lot, which lately has been used for equipment storage by construction crews working on town projects.

The park closest to the area, Compass Rose Park near Sea Pines Circle, is too far for young children to bike to and has no parking area, Daly said, adding, "I have to pay money to go into Sea Pines or trespass at a church to take my kids to a playground."

The town's plan includes a smaller park -- two to three acres of open space -- that could hold events and would include a playground, picnic shelters and restrooms, among other amenities

However, the focus of the property would be a building for the college's hospitality-management program. The building would house six classrooms, a lecture hall, a demonstration kitchen for culinary instruction, library space, faculty offices, a lounge and food service, according to USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw. About 400 juniors and seniors would use the building.

Many of the school's hospitality students have internships at Hilton Head restaurants and hotels, and classes on the island would enhance their educational experience, Upshaw said.

The building would also house courses for residents and visitors through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Elderhostel programs, bringing people to the island's shops and restaurants year-round, she said.

The neighborhood board doesn't oppose USCB coming to the island; it just wants it to go elsewhere. The board suggests the college's former building near Sea Pines Circle or across the street in Heritage Plaza, board executive director John Snodgrass said.

Alternative locations for the campus could be discussed, town manager Steve Riley said.

Upshaw said the university is not interested in returning to the facility it left in 2004, because it doesn't meet the university's quality standards.

"We're a totally different institution now than we were then," she said.

Daly also said the area needs "at least 50 percent more parking." He said board members could support plans for a multi-level parking garage if it was hidden by landscaping.

Riley said updated plans for the project would likely include more parking spaces. The town is accepting proposals from design consultants to help refine the plans, which could be submitted to town committees in a few months, he said.

In total, the Coligny development is likely to cost more than $20 million and would be paid for with bond-sale proceeds and tax-increment financing revenue, as well as private fundraising from the university, according to Riley. However, it remains undetermined how much the town and university would be responsible for paying.

The town faces a December 2014 deadline to commit about $13 million in tax increment financing to public works projects. About $6.4 million has been set aside for projects in Coligny.

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