Town should say no to campus at Coligny

info@islandpacket.comOctober 9, 2013 

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Hilton Head Island officials make a good case for a college facility on town-owned land near Coligny Beach, but it doesn't overcome the practical concerns of crowding an already overcrowded area with more people and more cars and less flexibility to accommodate them.

A campus for the University of South Carolina Beaufort's hospitality management program does not have to be located at that particular spot to accomplish the stated educational goal -- allowing students to live and work in the environment they are studying.

Pick just about any spot in this area and you can accomplish the same thing.

Better to use town property near Coligny Circle and the town beach park for more parking and community open space than to exacerbate a bad situation.

Town Council is being presented with three different plans for redevelopment in that area; two include the college campus and a park with an open lawn and pavilion. The third includes a 400-space parking lot and the park.

The council's Public Facilities Committee has sent the three ideas on to the full council with no specific recommendation. But with two of the three conceptual plans including a campus, you can see where the decision is likely headed.

The Coligny area site does offer significant advantages to the college -- donated land and money for construction from the town.

It's very similar to the deal the university got from Beaufort County to build its Hilton Head Gateway campus on U.S. 278 near Sun City Hilton Head. But that doesn't mean it should be replicated in a densely populated area of Hilton Head Island.

Nearby residents have raised concerns about the traffic impacts on Coligny Circle and Pope Avenue, but no one should discount the potential negative impact on Sea Pines Circle and surrounding streets. Vehicles must travel through that area to get to Coligny.

The town faces a December 2014 deadline to commit about $6.4 million generated from a special tax district that includes the Coligny area. The 15-year tax district has been in place for nearly 14 years now, and we're still debating what to do in the Coligny area.

Town manager Steve Riley has said a project that includes a college campus would cost more than $20 million and take several years to complete. Earlier discussions have indicated USCB also would do some private fundraising for the project. The building also is expected to be used by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Proponents of the campus idea say it will build year-round business in the area and provide incentives for nearby property owners to spruce up their units. Dated commercial building would be rehabbed by their owners thanks to more business from students, retirees and hospitality workers taking courses at the new facility.

But there's no guarantee that students attending hospitality management classes there won't live elsewhere, particularly off-island where rents are likely to be lower.

Nor is there any guarantee that owners whose buildings are already full and leased at high rates would invest in them. In fact, a consultant told the town that offering incentives for them to do so wouldn't bring in enough tax revenue to offset the town's cost.

Oceanfront hotels and resorts in the area have finished or announced major renovations without subsidies from the town. It makes you wonder why the tax district included the Coligny area in the first place.

The town has had almost 15 years to figure this out, but just because a deadline looms doesn't mean officials should jump on the college bandwagon. Better to give up the tax-district money than to use it the wrong way.

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