A nonprofit group is inching toward its goal of preserving Mitchelville, but still lacks a detailed plan for raising money, to the chagrin of Town of Hilton Head Island officials.
In the meantime, the group has struggled to fund studies to get the multi-million dollar project off the ground.
"Money is a limitation," Randy Dolyniuk, chairman of the Mitchelville Preservation Project, told a committee of Town Council members last week. "It will take a while. What we ask for is for people to be patient."
Gov. Nikki Haley recently used her line-item veto to nix $200,000 from the 2012-13 state budget to help preserve Mitchelville. The 150-year-old site on Hilton Head is believed to be America's first planned community for freed slaves. In her memo, Haley called it and some other vetoed projects "pork-barrel spending."
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The nonprofit group hoped to use the state money to buy plots adjoining 35 acres of town- and county-donated land along Beach City Road. The land is beside Fish Haul Creek Park, which the town tentatively agreed to lease to the group so parts of the village could be re-created.
But first the town wants the group to present a business plan, which has not been completed.
"I think we've gotten a number of carts before the horse," Dolyniuk said. "Today, we would not be very good stewards of the donations we receive if we took control of Fish Haul Park. Maintenance and insurance would wipe out our operating budget. We need to come up with logical, sustainable ideas of the steps we're going to take."
Dolyniuk told the town's Public Facilities Committee the project is still slowly evolving, and there is no timetable for completion of the memorial "freedom park."
Plans include ongoing archeological digs and research; replicas of cottages, a school and a prayer house; commemorative statues; and a welcome center.
But first, the group must raise $218,300 for surveys, research and consulting services, to flesh out those concepts, Dolyniuk said.
The group also projects another $200,000 in operating costs, including $80,000 for an executive director and staff, and $30,000 for marketing -- all predicated upon fundraising.
So far, about $120,000 has been raised since 2010, said interim director Joyce Wright.
That troubles some Town Council members.
"I'm disappointed they haven't gotten further along," Councilman George Williams Jr. said by phone Tuesday. "I think the expectations of council were higher than what we've seen so far. It does not appear to me, at this point, to have a clear path forward yet, especially on the financial side."
Committee chairwoman Kim Likins said council backs the project but is "looking for a solid business plan."
"That has to happen to make people feel comfortable giving money to the project," Likins said during the committee meeting.
Williams added: "We'll have to be more patient and just wait until they can pull some of this together. This is a long-term goal, and we'll support them the best we can."
Dolyniuk believes the group has accomplished much in the past 18 months: Hiring a local consultant for site and program planning; securing office space; signing a contract with an advertising and marketing firm; and working with a local leadership class to build an informational kiosk at the park.
The group also hopes to create a traveling exhibit about Mitchelville, to be displayed along the Southeast coast, and e-books describing everyday life within the former freedmen's village, he said.
"The focus right now is on educating people about the story of Mitchelville, because it's the story that makes people passionate and want to get involved," Dolyniuk said.