By TOM BARTON
Hilton Head Island Town Council on Monday backed away from plans to use town land and money to create a new commercial district at Coligny.
Instead, the council authorized staff to move ahead with public projects intended to draw more people to the area, by using town land to build a central park and new hospitality management campus for the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
Redeveloping the Coligny area has long been a priority for the town, which faces a December 2014 deadline to commit an estimated $13 million to parks, roads, pathways, boardwalks, parking, drainage and landscaping. About $6.4 million of the money, which was captured from a tax-increment finance district, has been set aside for future projects within the Coligny district.
Plans shown to council in November called for redeveloping a mix of town land, private holdings in Heritage and Coligny plazas, and other property. The plans included a hotel, parking garages, a new park and new plazas with outdoor cafes, shops and restaurants. Condominiums or apartments would occupy a second story above the retail space.
Spending town money to entice Coligny area businesses to redevelop their properties, however, won’t bring in enough tax revenue to offset the costs, a consultant told the council last month.
“There is little reason for the town to subsidize redevelopment of viable existing commercial enterprise or install public improvements ... aimed primarily to subsidize or support those commercial enterprises,” town manager Steve Riley wrote in a memo to council.
Instead, the town should use its land and TIF money to improve parking and add green space, upgrade nearby streets and establish a presence for USCB’s hospitality programs, Riley and the consultant recommended. Council agreed unanimously.
Town Council last year approved an agreement with the university to create a new center for event-management and hospitality training.
The center, operated by USCB in space rented from Sea Pines, offers credit and noncredit courses, as well as certificates and training for industry professionals.
About 60 USCB students were enrolled for the spring semester, and the center has trained more than 360 hospitality workers, according to chancellor Jane Upshaw.
“It has been a wonderful success and we have plans to expand the program to include coastal ecology, island environment and sustainability and offer more seminars,” Upshaw told council. She said the university has discussed plans for a campus on Hilton Head that would serve about 200 students, with a demonstration kitchen for culinary arts instruction and classrooms offering extended learning courses for residents and retirees through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“We are creating something that will have sustaining appeal to seniors with on-going learning and for our younger people,” Councilman Bill Harkins said, saying such a campus creates “a potpourri of opportunities” for the island.
Riley said a campus would bring more people to the area year-round and fill unused rental units during the off-season.
James N. Richardson, Jr., owner of Coligny Plaza, lauded the idea, but worries there will not be enough parking to alleviate added traffic and congestion that would be created.
Councilwoman Kim Likins, who represents the area, and Jack Daly, president of the Forest Beach Owners Association, said the new plans better fit the neighborhood.
“The plans that came out before the economic study were exciting and bold, but there was a tremendous amount of density and urban feel,” Likins said. “I think staff accomplished giving the area a unique identity, while recognizing why it is these residents live there, which is the forest and the beach.”
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.