A scaled-back rowing and sailing center on Town of Hilton Head Island land received some tailwind this week when a panel approved conceptual plans. Town staff will seek bids for design and engineering services after the Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday approved the layout for the center with access to Skull Creek.
Once proposed as a public-private partnership, the center will be completely funded by the town through tax increment financing revenue.
"Because of a lack of private money being brought to bear, staff suggested using (the special tax revenue) to pay for the project, and that's what council endorsed," town director of public project and facilities Scott Liggett said Friday.
The town spent $3.5 million last fall to buy 5.3 acres along Squire Pope Road that is next to 2.2 acres it already owns. The smaller parcel once was home to a seafood co-op. The town also spent about $82,000 to remove abandoned boats, demolish a dilapidated dock and clean up the site.
Town Council budgeted $150,000 this year for designs. Construction is tentatively slated for 2014, but Luther Strayer and other members of the Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club hope it starts sooner.
Preliminary plans call for a floating pier with floating dock, fenced boat storage space, an office, restrooms and a community pavilion. More parking, storage, meeting and office space could be added later as money becomes available, Liggett said.
The Island Recreation Association would operate and manage the facility. The town would contribute $67,000 a year toward operating costs, according to a 2010 proposal.
Sailing and rowing groups had pledged to donate about $1 million toward a $1.5 million center, then promised $356,600 in private donations for a $1 million facility. Now, the town would pay the total cost to build the center, with the sailing and rowing groups providing boats and equipment, Liggett said.
So far, the rowing and sailing groups have raised about $20,000, Strayer said.
Liggett is not sure how much construction will cost but thinks it will be far less than $1.5 million.
"That will be largely determined by the design and engineering plans developed," he said.
Sailors and rowers say existing facilities are too small, too crowded or not open to the public.
Hilton Head Island Crew, which uses space under the Old Oyster Factory off Marshland Road, doesn't have enough room or boats for all 54 members. A maximum of 36 can row at a time, forcing the team to split practices to two one-hour sessions, instead of a typical two hours. They also can't row at low tide from their location on Broad Creek, Strayer said.
"We're an island surrounding by water and all we do is play golf and tennis," Strayer said. "Let's add some water sports and take advantage of our waterways. It provides added recreation and chance to enjoy nature."
Parks and recreation commissioner Heather Rath and Curtis Barnwell, a member of the Stoney/Squire Pope Property Owners Association, say the center will add to residents' quality of life and makes good use of a distressed property with important, historical value to native islanders.
"It will bring that property back to life," said Barnwell, who as boy used to gather bushels of crab from the co-op for sale. "It's good to see a positive thing being put there that will help the greater community."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.