Hilton Head buys building, moves a step closer to future USCB campus

dburley@islandpacket.comMay 31, 2014 

Continuing its push for a University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on Office Park Road, the Town of Hilton Head Island has purchased a third building and is planning to buy one more.

The new campus would include USCB's hospitality-management degree program and a branch for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The campus is estimated to cost as much as $26 million, according to town documents.

Meanwhile, one island resident says the town has ignored a building farther down Office Park that could house classrooms for a cheaper price.

"All it would need is a few coats of paint, some new carpet," resident Peter Ovens said. "But (the university and the town) want brand new."

On Thursday, the town paid $1,210,000 for a 18,500-square-foot building -- known as the Kiawah -- in the Carolina Office Park.

The town already had bought the 5 1/2-acre office park and two other buildings there for $1.6 million in March.

With this week's purchase, the town only needs to buy the Time Warner building on a neighboring lot to obtain enough land for the campus.

Once acquired, the town plans to demolish the buildings to make way for the university satellite building. Town manager Steve Riley said he was "optimistic" that construction could begin next summer.

Town officials have said they hope the campus will revitalize a rundown area of mostly vacant office buildings.

But Ovens, the Hilton Head resident, argues the same goal could be achieved with less public money.

He wants USCB to move into the Courtyard Building, which sits by itself across from Park Plaza, along a tree-lined stretch of Office Park.

Ovens said the town and university could buy the upper floors of the 3-story building for less than $1 million.

Inside, there's enough space for college classrooms. The surrounding parking space is adequate, too, he said.

He pointed to office-buildings-turned-college-classrooms in Charleston and Savannah as examples of urban renewal.

He pitched his idea to the town, but received no interest, he said.

Riley, who has been inside the Courtyard, said there isn't enough space to consider moving there.

Hilton Head office buildings aren't like those in Charleston or Savannah, he said.

"These aren't cool old office buildings or high-ceiling warehouses," he said. "These are hastily thrown together buildings from the 1970s. It's like comparing historic Beaufort to a suburban mall."

"We need new construction and a new campus."

Putting the campus at Carolina Office Park also leaves room for expansion, Riley said.

The town owns land surrounding the park, known as the Boggy Gut tract.

In an email Friday, USCB chancellor Jane Upshaw alluded to future development after the initial campus is complete.

The town is "putting together a viable package to propose to USCB that will serve the growth and development needs of Hilton Head Island," she wrote. "and, will also be attractive to students and Osher Lifelong Learning members."

The town plans to pay for the campus with revenue from a special tax district in the area. It extended the tax district for 10 years earlier this month.

Money from the current district was used to fund Thursday's land purchase.

The town's partners in the tax district -- the Beaufort County Council, the Board of Education and Hilton Head Public Service District -- also agreed to the extension, forgoing additional tax revenue for the next 10 years.

The extension could generate $50 million for the USCB campus and other projects, including a 1.5-mile park trail linking the redeveloped Shelter Cove Towne Centre with the beach and a new park; a children's museum; beach parking; and road improvements along Pope Avenue, according to the town.

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

Related content:

Hilton Head buys land for future USCB campus, March 5, 2014

USCB plan for island location gains momentum, Dec. 21, 2013

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