Hilton Head Island Town Council and local arts advocates say it’s time to think big.
They want to build an arts and entertainment campus that could cost $55 million to $65 million, saying they can bring in big-name performers to fill a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, provide space to house the symphony and other arts groups and build a 1,500-seat indoor concert hall. Build it, they say, and the local economy will take off and the town’s future as a tourist destination will be ensured.
Others are concerned, however. Concerned about the price tag, long-term sustainability, whether a location so far from the interstate would work, whether we could draw top performers, what this means for the current arts center, and whether enough community support exists outside of the passionate core driving the project.
The answers will ultimately play a role in deciding whether a proposed 1-percent sales tax proposal sought by the county will pass or fail if it comes to a vote in November.
Never miss a local story.
Today and continuing tomorrow, we examine the arts campus questions in more depth.
Is $65 million realistic?
Chief among the project’s numerous challenges would be the campus’ hefty price tag.
The first $9.5 million for pre-development, or “soft cost” expenses, including surveys and mockups, may come from taxpayers. Beaufort County Council will soon decide whether to place a countywide one-percent sales-tax increase on the November ballot that may provide the $9.5 million for the campus as well as millions more for a list of other projects that the county and its municipalities want.
Even if the $9.5 million is secured, the bigger question is where the remaining $55 million would come from. Some fear taxpayers could be on the hook for years to help pay for building and then maintaining the campus.
Would big name artists perform at Hilton Head’s arts campus? and other questions answered
“To me, it would be a black hole for taxpayer dollars,” said Hilton Head Island resident Charles Lenzinger.
Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett, the campus’ biggest advocate on Town Council, would not discuss where funding might come from, or whether taxpayers would be expected to chip in, instead deflecting the question to a committee that will discuss and report findings to the council by December.
Others who have been working behind the scenes to create the campus have ideas on how to pay for it and acknowledge taxpayer money could be part of the mix.
“There is a portion that you’re asking for through bonding,” said Dan Castro, vice president of Community Vision of Hilton Head and a member of the town’s new venue committee. “But there are things you could do (for the remainder) like private donors, commercial investors — there is the opportunity for naming rights — and there are grants and state funding.”
It could be very difficult to privately raise millions for the campus, history shows.
Group spends $100,000, works a decade to bring arts venue to Hilton Head Island
“It took us probably three years to raise $10 million,” said Dudley King, who was vice chairman and treasurer for a campaign that was instrumental in building the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head more than 20 years ago.
While many residents were in favor of an arts center, many more were not.
“There was lot of people that didn’t think the community could support it,” King said.
In fact, King’s group had originally envisioned a concert hall in addition to the 349-seat theater that overlooks U.S. 278. But ultimately, plans for the hall were eliminated because the money was not there.
Receiving a large endowment from a wealthy donor — or a big pot of money from another private source — likely will be critical to getting the campus up and running and ensuring its long-term success.
But so far, no money has been raised to build the Hilton Head campus. Castro said his group is aware of the importance of a strong endowment and said their studies showed that $10 million would provide a strong start for the project.
“We know of people who have the capability to do that,” he said, though he declined to give names. “But until the town commits that this is a legitimate, official town-endorsed project, we can’t go to donors.”
Although hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, examples in both Greenville and Charleston show the importance of individual donations.
A $10 million gift from members of the Peace family got Greenville’s Peace Center up and running, said Megan Riegel, president and CEO for the center, a six-acre downtown venue that hosts national touring performers and Broadway shows.
That gift, given in the mid-’80s, helped kickstart a fundraising campaign that raised another $32 million from individual donors, corporations and even school children.
Another endowment campaign, launched two years after the center opened in 1990, raised an additional $6.5 million. That endowment, Riegel said, continues to grow and is now primarily used for capital campaign costs and reinvestment.
“Because the easy part is building the place,” she said. “The hard part is making it work.”
Because the easy part is building the place. The hard part is making it work.
Megan Riegel, president and CEO for the Peace Center
A similar endowment has made the Gaillard Center in Charleston a success. The $142 million center could not have re-opened in 2015 without the help of billionaire philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram, who raised $71 million through a private foundation, said Kevin Carlon, the center’s director of external affairs. The city of Charleston, under the direction of then-Mayor Joe Riley, matched that offer with another $71 million.
Executive Director for the S.C. Arts Commission Ken May added that a strong endowment or cash upfront is also a way to gain credibility with supporters.
When the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina announced last summer that it had quietly raised more than $29 million of its $30 million capital campaign goal, it made a lot of people take notice, he said.
“They were just so breathtakingly close to what they had wanted to raise,” May said. “It really said a lot.”
These sorts of gestures can also set the tone for the momentum of a project, he went on to say.
“People have to believe this is really going to happen if they’re going to give it money,” he said. “And that’s the way to do it.”
Is Hilton Head a good location?
While various sites including Jenkins Island and the town-owned Planter’s Row Golf Course in Port Royal Plantation have been suggested for the proposed 3.5-acre campus, Honey Horn Plantation is the preferred location, Castro said.
The 68-acre property could accommodate parking and handle traffic entering and exiting, he said.
However, the campus would require about 40 acres or more for parking, depending on the site and facility. And that’s acreage Honey Horn may simply not have, said Rex Garniewicz, president and CEO of Coastal Discovery Museum, which is located at Honey Horn.
“Most of that 68 acres cannot be developed because of a variety of uses, both by the museum and by the public,” he said.
The property’s open fields are reserved by the town as the island’s recovery area for the collection and disposal of debris created by a hurricane or natural disaster, and are purposefully not developed in the town-approved master plan for the site, he said.
And while the Coastal Discovery Museum is “very supportive” of the arts on Hilton Head and an arts venue if it is viable, Garniewicz’s organization is also protective of the property, which the museum leases from the town. In fact, the museum has a 95-year lease on the town-owned property, which started in 2002.
The open fields contribute significantly to the historic nature of the landscape, he said. “So while we’re open to discussion, we’re also very cautious and very protective (of the land).”
If Honey Horn isn’t an option, odds are good that the campus could be located near one of the island’s neighborhoods — neighborhoods that would likely fight any proposal that included an amphitheater.
Residents of Indigo Run dealt with a similar situation in the mid-’90s when an amphitheater was proposed in their community. Neighbors joined forces to shout down the proposal, citing noise concerns.
Rick Caporale, a member of the Beaufort County Council, said an amphitheater would be a tough sell to any of the island’s neighborhoods.
“I would hate to see Honey Horn paved over,” he said. “And I’m guessing the folks at Port Royal Plantation (where the town owns land) don’t want the campus inside their neighborhood, either. So location remains a big problem.”
I would hate to see Honey Horn paved over. And I’m guessing the folks at Port Royal Plantation (where the town owns land) don’t want the campus inside their neighborhood either. So location remains a big problem.
Rick Caporale, Beaufort County councilman
Bennett said he didn’t have a predisposition toward any particular location.
“I think the majority of the Town Council thinks it’s a topic that needs to be fully vetted and understood,” he said.
A broader question exists as well: Whether any venue on the small island can draw in big acts.
Charleston and Savannah’s various performing arts centers are within one mile — in some cases less than a mile — from major interstates. Meanwhile, Honey Horn is 22 miles from I-95.
Venue managers and consultants say proximity is certainly a consideration.
Without a study looking at the proposed center’s “radius of travel,” it is difficult to determine where the venue’s targeted audience would be coming from, said David Rosenburg, with Connecticut-based Theatre Projects Consultants.
We have a pretty good idea of who comes to Hilton Head and why and when.
Dan Castro, vice president of the CVHH and a member of the town’s new venue committee
“So if you’re planning to pull from Savannah for your audience, you wouldn’t want your performers to (then) go the next night to Savannah, because you’ve eliminated your ability to pull from that audience,” he said.
While the CVHH has not done a “radius of travel” or formal study looking at where audience-goers would come from, they have looked at ZIP code information collected by the town’s various performing arts groups and visitor data from the area’s convention bureaus, Castro said.
“We have a pretty good idea of who comes to Hilton Head and why and when,” he said, adding that he thought this would be a “dream” location for performers and audience members alike.
What’s next for arts campus?
Hilton Head town council recently formed a 15-member venue committee to study the issue further.
The committee is comprised of a diverse group of industry professionals with representation from various arts groups, including a member of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, said Jane Joseph who will serve as vice chairman. Cynthia Creamer, a Hilton Head real estate professional, will serve as chairman.
Over the next nine months, the committee will work to provide a specific set of recommendations to Town Council by the council’s December workshop.
What’s being proposed
Initial plans call for a 1,500-seat indoor concert hall and a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. Inside, local arts groups including the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and the Hilton Head Choral Society would get much-needed space. Outside, performing acts such as Tony Bennett and Darius Rucker would perform in an outdoor amphitheater, subsidizing the indoor space. The campus would also include a 10,000-square foot “arts institute” that would focus on education and a 12,000-square foot cultural exhibition hall to serve as an interpretive center for such heritage-related sites, including Mitchelville, the nation's first Civil War freedman's town that is located on Hilton Head Island.