The cash-strapped Arts Center of Coastal Carolina will get a $346,000 advance in 2013 accommodations tax money following a vote Wednesday by the Hilton Head Island Town Council.
The bed-tax money, which had already been approved, will be disbursed immediately to help the nonprofit center prepare for its upcoming theater season.
In exchange for the advance, the arts center has agreed to work with town officials to find savings that affect current and future budgets.
"We understand it is incumbent on the arts center to continue to manage our expenses carefully and to identify budgetary savings," arts center board chairman Fred Beard said Wednesday prior to the unanimous vote.
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"I think it is also incumbent on us to come forward with a plan to identify long-term issues facing the center, including retiring debt, funding the building and ongoing maintenance expenses," he said.
Town staff also will consider hiring consultants to take a broader look at funding formulas and other challenges facing all of the island's performing arts groups, many of which are struggling.
'AN ASSET FOR THE COMMUNITY'
Town councilmen, including some who were previously skeptical about advancing the bed tax money, expressed support Wednesday for the center and its role on the island.
"The arts center, in my mind, truly represents an asset for the community ... and hopefully it will have many more years ahead," said Councilman Bill Harkins.
Councilman George Williams, who said some of his past comments on the center may have been "harsh," described it as "vital" to the island. He also urged residents to support it, either through buying tickets or donating money.
Mayor Drew Laughlin envisions hiring consultants who will study existing arts programs and venues and consider creative ways to sustain them.
Arts center president and CEO Kathleen Bateson told council last week the organization needs about $5 million to cover debt and ongoing maintenance and repair costs at the 16-year-old venue.
Those costs at the Shelter Cove Lane facility include $220,000 to replace the porte-cochere awning, $250,000 to replace exterior stucco, $150,000 to replace the roof and $130,000 to repair and re-upholster seats.
The arts center has struggled financially since its 45,000-square-foot space was built in 1996. Beard said the board is currently trying to raise $5 million by tapping current and future pledges to improve the facility. It also hopes to launch a public fundraising campaign, he said.
The bed-tax advance will see the facility through winter, but won't address ongoing the most serious maintenance needs.
In other action Wednesday, council agreed to consider locations other than the Island Recreation Center for a proposed aquatics center.