I am persuaded that the return of the University of South Carolina Beaufort to Hilton Head Island will enhance our community.
When public hearings were held two years ago, the concerns were parking and traffic at the south end of the island. There was little discussion about USCB and no objection to its return.
Some Forest Beach residents preferred a location other than Coligny. Office Park, where USCB was located 20 years ago, was selected as the preferred site. Cost studies also indicated the Office Park area to be more cost-effective.
Traffic is a real concern at busy times, as residents scurry to use side roads to avoid Sea Pines Circle. These busy periods occur when USCB would typically not be in session and thus student impact on traffic will be minimal. Alternative developments at Office Park would create greater traffic problems.
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Mayor David Bennett has appointed the "Circle to Circle" task force to address development and traffic congestion in this area. A comprehensive solution is expected.
Hospitality is one of the fastest growing national industries. It is the lifeblood of our community; it fuels our economy by bringing visitors and future residents. Increased USCB involvement in our tourist industry will enhance the experience of our visitors, support current businesses, and create new ones. The synergy with hospitality management jobs for our youth, who will otherwise leave the area, is undeniable. Many will be lifetime ambassadors who promote our brand across the world.
Universities are an important factor in attracting economic development and being recognized in "best places to retire" rankings. USCB's Life Long Learning institute (OLLI), one of the top 10 in the nation, will serve our community from the new facility. USCB's return to the island offers the location and faculty expertise to attract significant conferences and events enhancing our community's international reputation. USCB's return to the island is expected to trigger appropriate development in the blighted Office Park area, eliminating two decades of neglect. This area has little prospect of being re-developed without USCB collaboration.
In a sense, the county is paying for the Hilton Head/USCB campus collaboration. The campus will be funded through an extension of an existing tax increment financing district, in which the increase in property taxes resulting from improving the area are used to repay the investment. A TIF that financed the USCB Bluffton campus was extremely effective; the 25-year debt was paid in 12 years. The county is foregoing $26 million in property taxes to fund the $26 million USCB investment on Hilton Head.
Without USCB's return, Beaufort County would not participate in the TIF extension and other improvements might not otherwise be undertaken. The Beaufort County School District, the Town of Hilton Head Island and theHilton Head Island Public Service District are foregoing taxes of $24 million (the remaining portion of the $50 million TIF). Those funds will be used for improvements in Coligny and nearby areas.
Some people seem to have forgotten these matters were publicly debated a year ago at Town Council, County Council and the Board of Education, garnering strong support from all three bodies.
In summary, USCB's return should be welcomed. Traffic congestion, which is independent of its return, is being resolved.
Stu Rodman is a Beaufort County Council representative from Hilton Head Island and the council's liaison to USCB and the Town of Hilton Head Island.