Hilton Head officials willing to pay to stabilize arts community

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 22, 2014 

  • Interactive

Hilton Head Island officials said again Tuesday the town should play a larger role in supporting its cash-strapped arts community.

Just how to do it, though, remains a question.

"We have never had a policy of public support for the arts," Mayor Drew Laughlin said, "but it's unrealistic to think that we can maintain this without some public support."

Town Council met to discuss a recently released study that suggests the town shoulder more of the financial burden for struggling arts and entertainment groups. About 60 arts supporters attended the meeting.

The study, commissioned by the town at a cost of about $80,000, suggests public dollars be used to expand those organizations and repair their facilities when necessary. Those repairs include upgrading the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, which would cost about $3.5 million.

The $10.2 million building opened in March 1996 with no money set aside for building maintenance. Center officials have since borrowed about $2.5 million for work on the building, but more maintenance and repairs are still needed.

"We can either sit back and let (the Arts Center) fall or we can help them in the short term," Councilman Lee Edwards said.

Council members said little about how the town would pay for such improvements or general arts support.

Some floated the idea of lobbying the General Assembly to increase what council members consider a low accommodations tax -- a levy on overnight lodging to fund programs that promote tourism and attract visitors.

The study suggests raising that tax from 10 to 11 percent. The national average is 12 percent, the study says.

"I'd like to see us have a serious conversation about increasing it," Laughlin said.

Island arts groups draw some of their revenue -- an average of 12 percent, according to the study -- from the tax.

Jerry Allen, a partner in the Cultural Planning Group, the Philadelphia-based company that conducted the study, offered a few suggestions Tuesday for long-term revenue sources.

In Scottsdale, Ariz., for example, local government is considering a 1-dollar surcharge on golf rounds. Residents who show their driver's license would be exempt, he said.

Another possibility is a tax on rental websites such as Airbnb, a service that allows private homeowners to rent their dwellings. Currently, there is no lodging tax on that service, Allen said.

His study also recommended the creation of a town-run agency dedicated to cultural affairs. Council members seemed to warm to that idea.

It would be a central source for art groups and give one voice to what is now many different organizations, the study said. It would also help with marketing and maintenance, among other things.

Town Manager Steve Riley said such an agency could work, but would have to "start small," with possibly only one staff member.

Council members said they would consider arts funding in May as they build next year's budget.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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