The Town of Hilton Head Island is considering donating land where a miniature golf course now stands and paying several million dollars toward a new building for the University of South Carolina Beaufort in hopes of revitalizing the Coligny area.
The land that would be donated for the USCB facility is between Nassau Street and the entrance to the town's beach parking lot off Coligny Circle -- which includes the current home of Legendary Golf.
The town also would use public money and proceeds from bonds to help pay for the facility, which would require a large private fundraising campaign by USCB, according to preliminary details released Friday by town and university officials.
Nothing, however, has been finalized in the town's new plan for sprucing up the Coligny area.
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"There is no funding plan and there is much work to be done before the vision becomes reality," USCB spokeswoman Candace Brasseur said.
The arrangement would be similar to the agreement between USCB and Beaufort County that led to the creation of the Hilton Head Gateway campus in Hardeeville, Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley said.
USCB's new building would house six classrooms, a lecture hall, a demonstration kitchen for culinary instruction, library space, faculty offices, a lounge and food service, providing instruction for nearly 400 juniors and seniors enrolled in the university's hospitality management program, USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw said.
The building would also offer extended-learning courses for residents and retirees through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Upshaw said.
Riley said USCB's presence would bring more people to the area year-round and fill unused rental units during the off-season.
Town officials believe that some of the dated buildings in Coligny eventually would be rehabbed by their owners, thanks to a boost in business from students, retirees and hospitality workers taking courses at the new facility.
"You're introducing something that provides activity in the off-season that it doesn't have right now," Riley said
The proposal for a USCB "campus," as town officials are calling it, emerged last week at the same time Town Council backed away from another plan -- using town land and money to foster creation of a new commercial district at Coligny.
Council members said a public project like the USCB plan offers more benefits than the earlier proposal aimed at encouraging commercial redevelopment.
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 public works projects. About $6.4 million of the money, captured from a tax-increment finance district, has been set aside for projects in Coligny.
WHY THE SHIFT?
Oceanfront hotels and resorts have either completed or announced major renovations, including The Beach House, a Holiday Inn resort in Coligny, without prodding or subsidies from the town.
And Coligny Plaza is 100 percent leased with high rents, requiring significant incentives to redevelop that won't bring in enough tax revenue to offset the costs, according to a consultant.
"Why not, instead, use (the $6.4 million) for something that has broader public use and benefit, while creating an anchor for the district based on hospitality and tourism, which are key economic drivers and core competencies for both the town and USCB?" Riley asked.
Town Council and USCB last year agreed to create a new center for event-management and hospitality training focused on helping the town attract tourists.
The existing center, operated by USCB in rented office space at the Sea Pines Visitor Center, offers credit and noncredit courses, as well as certificates and training for industry professionals.
The town, though, has said it wants USCB's Hospitality Management Department to have a larger presence on the island.
Students and staff working in the existing center generate ideas for new festivals to draw more visitors, support current events and help businesses improve customer service, according to USCB officials.
Building a facility in Coligny will allow the department to move instruction closer to the businesses it uses as "learning laboratories" for many courses, as well as required internships, Upshaw said.
"It's a great opportunity to leverage Hilton Head Island's brand identity with USCB's record of success," Upshaw said.
Councilwoman Kim Likins, who represents the area, points to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Savannah College of Art and Design as examples of what USCB's influence could do for the area.
"You have younger folks and lots of activity intermingled with retirees continuing their education," Likins said of UNC. "(And) you see the vitality and the energy the students bring to Savannah and the businesses that spring up as a result. I think the same would follow in Coligny."
The town contributes more than $100,000 annually from part of its 1-percent accommodations tax on overnight lodging to run the center. USCB gives about $35,000 each year, Riley said.
Plans also call for the town to use its land and money to add parking and green space and upgrade nearby streets, including a new roundabout and central park beside the new USCB building.
The total cost for improvements in Coligny approved by Town Council is estimated at $15 million to $20 million.
The town will probably borrow to pay what it cannot pick up through tax-increment financing dollars earmarked for the district, Riley said.
"We'll retire some bonds in the next several years," he said. "So we'll pay off some debt, allowing us to take on new debt without needing to raise taxes to do so."