Hilton Head Island Town Council members indicated Monday they are willing to loan the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina money for some of its most critical building repairs, estimated to be $1 million, even though more than one councilman warned that the town would likely not see the money again.
"I view the loan in the same way as giving one of your kids a loan -- you're never going to get it back," Councilman Bill Harkins said. He joined Councilman George Williams in questioning whether the arts center would be able to repay the town.
No votes were taken during the council's mid-year strategic-planning workshop, though all members except Councilwoman Kim Likins said they favor lending the money. The loan could be authorized this month as part of the town's budget, according to town manager Steve Riley. Riley estimated the critical repairs would cost $1 million.
Much of the workshop was spent discussing capital projects and how to pay for them. Council members also expressed willingness to help fund a proposed sailing and rowing center, despite rising cost estimates.
The arts center on Shelter Cove Lane needs about $2.5 million in upgrades, according to center officials and an outside consultant. Among the sorest needs are a new heating and cooling system, a new sound system and repairs to the stage and an outdoor awning.
Giving financial help to the arts center, like many of the topics discussed Monday, was identified as a priority during the council's planning workshop in December.
Council members said the arts center needs to revamp its business plan. The nonprofit center ran a $215,000 deficit in fiscal year 2012, according to its financial statements. But council members also said the center is important to the island.
"These are things that are worthy of investment," Mayor Drew Laughlin said. A future on Hilton Head without the arts center is "not a future that is very attractive to me."
Councilwoman Likins countered that a loan to the arts center could encourage other arts groups to seek a town bailout when they struggle to maintain their facilities.
"How can you differentiate? How can you say the one is more important than the others?" she said.
The arts center is among several island arts organizations believed to be in a precarious financial position. The town is hiring a consultant to help determine the level of local support for the arts, how much public funding the arts should receive and what should be done about the arts center's building. The town expects to hire the consultant by mid-July, according to Riley.
"If the public isn't going to support the arts, they aren't going to support council supporting the arts," Councilman John McCann said. "It's their money either way."
The council members also agreed on spending nearly $1 million on another capital project. All but Likins indicated they would support a $950,000 town plan to build a new rowing and sailing center along Skull Creek, off Squire Pope Road.
Likins has said the boating groups should pitch in.
Initially, the sailing and rowing groups have said they would raise money for the center. Over the years, the amount the boating groups have said they could raise has dropped from $1 million initially to $356,600 in 2010. So far, it appears no money has been raised privately for the center.
The town stepped up last year, offering to pay for a $700,000 center.
Two weeks ago, the council directed town staff to bring it estimates for a scaled-back version of the center after costs ballooned from $700,000 to $950,000.
By Monday, most council members seemed more inclined to pay the higher amount.
"The plan is there. Get it done and move on," Laughlin said of the project that has been discussed by Town Council for years. "This thing has occupied so much time and attention and energy."
Others shared in Laughlin's support, saying the park, which would feature a community pavilion, restrooms and floating dock for fishing, crabbing and loading boats, is an overdue investment in Ward 1 and along Skull Creek.
The town has served beachgoers with millions of dollars in beach renourishment, Councilman Lee Edwards said, "but if you want to go experience the waterfront (by boat), the town has not spent a nickel, to my knowledge, on the waterfront property on the back side of the island, unless it's beach oriented.
"This is one place where we could do something nice, and I'd rather go ahead and build the damn thing."
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.
- New business model needed for arts groups, May 26, 2013