A plan to build a maritime center in Beaufort County with aquariums and models of sea creatures is 10 percent short of its fundraising goal, and County Council is being asked to provide the remainder.
The request for $292,000 from the Port Royal Sound Foundation won unanimous support Monday from the county Finance Committee and heads to the full council April 14 for final approval.
"Usually people come and ask for some money, then go out and fund-raise," Councilman Stu Rodman said. "Actually, they've raised the 90 percent of it already, and really, we're just pushing it over the edge."
The $292,000 sum represents about 10 percent of the more than $2 million project to renovate the former Lemon Island Marina on S.C. 170, a project that is expected to be completed in June. The remaining 90 percent has been raised through monetary and in-kind gifts over the past three years, according to foundation leaders.
The maritime center on the Chechessee River will include a room with suspended models of a tiger shark, a loggerhead sea turtle, bottleneck dolphin and cownose rays surrounding a ceiling painted to look like the bottom of a boat. Other exhibits will include a 2,400-gallon tank with cobia, red drum and small sharks; a living salt marsh with ribbed mussels, periwinkle snails and fiddler crabs; and a shallow tank with fish and rays for visitors to touch. It will also have touch-screen exhibits and classroom space.
The county's funding would pay for additional building renovations, video displays and an interactive exhibit about the history of the area's founding, according to foundation treasurer Dick Stewart.
It also would be used to build a dock to start a boating-safety program at the center, in partnership with the Spirit of America Foundation, which has pledged $250,000 to help fund the program and provide boats, Stewart said.
Those programs will provide a place for area students to learn about the county's natural history and will include partnerships with other local museums to include displays about the Gullah Geechee Corridor; Mitchelville, a former freed-slaves village on Hilton Head Island; and Santa Elena, the site of a former town formed by Spanish settlers more than 400 years ago on Parris Island, Stewart said.
"It's not just about our natural resources; it's about our cultural resources," Councilwoman Laura Von Harten said. "This is something that's been desperately needed for a long time."
If approved, the money would come from the county's accommodations tax fund. Also called a "bed tax," an accommodations tax is levied on overnight lodging to fund programs that promote tourism and attract visitors.
The county has about $2.6 million in accommodations tax revenue and already has contributed $25,000 to the foundation, according to county documents.
The center will help attract tourism by offering another year-round destination for visitors, one of the purposes of accommodations taxes, Stewart said.
Other accommodations-tax projects include the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort and refurbishing The Arsenal in Beaufort, Rodman said.
Although the foundation plans to open the maritime center in June, some exhibits won't be completed until fall, Stewart said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.