Hilton Head council lashes out at boating groups for failing to raise money

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJune 12, 2013 

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  • The Hilton Head Island Community Rowing and Sailing Center, a nonprofit formed by island boating groups, continues to raise money for facilities, boats and equipment for the proposed waterfront park off Squire Pope Road, group officials said. Donations can be sent to Kirk Glenn at P.O. Drawer 7668, 113 Executive Center, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 29938

Despite frustration with advocates who have raised little money to help fund the rowing and sailing center they are pushing for, Hilton Head Island Town Council is poised to approve the $950,000 project on Skull Creek.

But one council member wants to remove some of the center's boating-specific features, and another thinks the town should spend only $700,000 on the facility -- and pay no homage to the groups that advocated it.

"As early as we can, we need to name this after somebody, somewhere, something, so that it won't be known as 'the rowing and sailing center,' " Councilman John McCann said.

The project has not yet been given a formal name.

Despite the barbs some council members tossed at the Palmetto Rowing Club and Carolina Sailing Center groups, the boating center remained part of the proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which passed on first reading at the council's meeting Tuesday.

The budget could receive final approval as soon as June 18.

McCann and Councilman George Williams offered sharp criticism of the groups, who they say continue to demand changes to the facility's design despite failing to meet a $500,000 fundraising pledge in 2007.

"As far as I'm concerned, their attitudes make me doubt that I want to go into business with them," said Councilman George Williams, who represents the Sea Pines area. "As we get further along here, it's 'gimme, gimme, gimme,' not 'what can we do to make this happen?' "

Lou Strayer, a member of the Palmetto Rowing Club and coach of the Hilton Head Island Crew, disagrees.

"We're not being demanding," he said. "We're not asking for all the fancy bells and whistles. We're just asking for a dock that is long and low to the water."

The center, slated for a site off Squire Pope Road, has been discussed for nearly a decade.

"I hate to keep kicking this can down the road," said Councilman Lee Edwards, who represents the mid-island area. "I'd like to get something done here. It's a worthy project,"

Project designs calls for a community pavilion, playground, restrooms, and a dock that could be used for fishing, crabbing and launching boats.

Williams wants to remove boating-specific features from the park, such as a $60,000 storage area for the vessels.

That is the only structure planned that exclusively serves boaters, according to town manager Steve Riley.

Leaders of the boating groups plan to store rowing shells, sailboats and other equipment there. Some of the sailboats would be available for rent, but use of the rowing equipment would be limited to rowing teams, according to Strayer.

McCann said he thinks council should spend only the $700,000 council approved for the project last year. If boating groups want additional facilities, they should pay for them, he said.

The price of the project increased to $950,000 because town staff underestimated the cost of the dock, according to town officials.

McCann also suggested stripping "rowing and sailing" out of the park's name, but Edwards said omitting it to punish the boating groups could prevent residents and visitors from realizing what will be offered there.

Riley said that if the project is approved as planned, the town could solicit bids for the park, then decide to build parts of it once exact costs are known.

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