Hilton Head Island Town Council members are preparing for a long night and large crowd at Tuesday's meeting to discuss three plans for redeveloping the Coligny area, Councilman George Williams Jr. said Monday.
Three proposals will be on the table during the 5 p.m. meeting in council chambers at Town Hall. Two include a site for a University of South Carolina Beaufort hospitality management program.
Town officials have said the campus could bring life and vibrancy to the area year-round. However, many local residents have voiced concerns about the increased traffic they expect will come.
"To me, this is a very important decision and we shouldn't rush into it or be pressured into any particular decision one way or another," Williams said. "And we are very sensitive to the public's thoughts and feedback on this."
There will be time for public comment at the end of the meeting after council's discussion, he said.
Williams, who didn't want to give his personal thoughts on the proposals until the meeting, said he has heard from opponents and proponents of the campus.
The two proposals to build a USCB campus would bring the junior and senior years of the school's Hospitality Management program back to Hilton Head Island, said vice chancellor for advancement Lynn McGee.
Chancellor Jane Upshaw and vice chancellor for finance and operations Earle Holley will attend the workshop to answer questions council members have as they consider the proposals, she said.
The new campus would not only provide students with the chance to work in the field in which they are studying, but McGee said it also would "build on the strengths of Hilton Head Island and meet its needs as an evolving tourism destination."
The campus would accommodate about 200 to 300 students, Mayor Drew Laughlin said.
He said he understands the concerns of residents about increased traffic and losing their "small, sleepy beach-cottage community," but he thinks those issues have been magnified and will not be as bad as suggested.
Town manager Steve Riley said he agrees.
"A major point of this proposal was that it took advantage of parking, restaurants and shopping in the time of the year when they are less busy," he said, "and it didn't contribute as much during the summertime, when we're already at peak."
Riley thinks Tuesday's workshop will help council discuss what it's trying to accomplish in the Coligny area and what a USCB campus could bring to the community.
Laughlin said he thinks it's important for the town to establish a partnership with the university, but isn't sure whether council will think Coligny is the best place for that to happen. Some other locations on the island could also be discussed, he said.
Redeveloping the Coligny area has been long been a priority for the town, and Laughlin said he hopes council can make a decision and begin to move forward soon.
The town faces a December 2014 deadline to agree on how to use $6.4 million for improvements in the Coligny area. The town set up a tax-increment finance district to raise the money.
Riley has said a project would total more than $20 million in improvements and take several years to complete. However, he said the town has started discussions about extending the tax district for several years if an agreement can be reached among the participants -- which include Beaufort County, the Beaufort County School District and the Hilton Head Public Service District.
Laughlin said he thinks the partners understand the benefit of a campus on the island and would work with the town to reach an agreement.
"Whatever the decision, the truth is that Coligny needs attention," Laughlin said. "The town property there is contributing nothing positive to the vitality of that area."
The proposals:All three proposals for redevelopment of the Coligny area of Hilton Head Island include a park with a children's museum, a playground and at least 1.5 acres of green space. The differences among the plans:
- The first includes a University of South Carolina Beaufort campus and shows a two-story building with classrooms and teaching labs, a three-story parking garage with more than 600 spaces and nearly 12,000 square feet of retail space in front of the garage off Pope Avenue.
- The second shows the campus but without the retail space.
- The third does not include the campus but has a parking lot with more than 400 spaces.