Construction begins on sailing, rowing center on Hilton Head

dburley@islandpacket.comJune 11, 2014 

After nearly a decade of planning and failures to find private funding, the Town of Hilton Head Island has started construction on a public sailing and rowing center that will offer boaters access to Skull Creek.

Workers hammered in dock pilings Wednesday at the nearly 8-acre site off Squire Pope Road. Plans call for the center -- which will feature a floating dock, handicapped-accessible pier, and community park -- to be finished by the fall, according to town public projects director Scott Liggett.

The pier and dock will be used for fishing, crabbing and launching boats, town officials have said. There will be no boat ramp for motorized vessels to access the creek, Liggett said.

"You can really never have enough public access to the water," town manager Steve Riley said. "This will offer an incredible sunset view and be a great place to throw in a fishing line."

The park will feature a picnic pavilion, playground, fire pit, fenced boat storage, restrooms and parking, according to town documents.

The project has been a long time in the making.

Initially proposed in 2007, the center was expected to cost $1.5 million. Its construction was contingent upon a private group of boaters raising $500,000 to build it and another $1.5 million to be raised over the next two years for an endowment to support the park's operations.

After funding failed to materialize, Town Council agreed to spend $700,000 for the center's dock, restrooms and other facilities. The boaters said they would provide boats, oars and safety equipment, a portion of which would be available for public use.

But the private money didn't come.

Donations never panned out, according to the nonprofit group created as the private half of the partnership. The group tallied just $20,000 to build a storage shed for the boats and equipment, according to its co-chairman John Rumsey.

With this in mind, council decided in December to build the center for $1.2 million. That cost will be covered largely with proceeds from a special tax district used to build parks, improve roads, extend sewer service and other uses.

Some council members have chafed at the park's cost, which has increased by about $550,000 since the project was approved in 2012.

Councilwoman Kim Likins said during a council workshop in November she was tired of being asked to pay all of what had been proposed as a private-public partnership.

"Individuals came forward and made commitments they're not willing to live up to, and now the expectation is we'll come in and pick up the pieces," Likins said.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Likins were unsuccessful.

Asked about the lack of private funding for the project, Riley said he was “over it.” Although it might not have been the best site to build on, he said, “We still ended up with a great community park.”

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