It was the day that changed everything.
Gov. Carroll Campbell came down from Columbia for the big announcement at Michael C. Elementary School in Bluffton.
On that day in January 1994, the Del Webb Corp. said it would build its first East Coast Sun City retirement community of 8,000 homes and 15,000 residents on 5,000 acres in a sea of nothingness on the road to Hilton Head Island.
Campbell called it “one of the most significant projects ever to come to our state.”
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To celebrate, he dropped in on teacher Gwen Fields’ third-grade dance class and the two of them offered an impromptu lesson in the shag, the state’s official dance.
After all, the governor said, “We’re talking about a community that will bring an investment of over $1 billion. This is a tribute to our quality of life in South Carolina.”
Del Webb’s first official investment — apart from the $2 million it spent over a couple of years in preparing to plunk down $23.5 million for the land — was a check for $12,500 written that day for the Michael C. Riley library.
For its part, the state committed to linking U.S. 278 to Interstate 95.
Nothing around here has ever been the same.
I couldn’t help but think of that day when Hardeeville sent out a news release two days before Thanksgiving announcing the future development of 9,500 homes and apartments with 20,000 residents and 1.5 million square feet of commercial and office space on 7,300 acres called East Argent — near Sun City.
Del Webb’s announcement sounded equally as unbelievable. But it has come true. The Hilton Head mayor back then grumbled that they used “Hilton Head” in the name of a place 15 miles away. He need not have wasted his breath. Sun City Hilton Head, on the outskirts of Bluffton, with portions in Hardeeville, boasts 15,000 residents in some 8,000 homes.
That in a place we used to call McGarvey’s Corner. It was at the dark head of a lonely road, where, if you paid close attention, you wouldn’t miss the two-lane road to Hilton Head.
But what happened at McGarvey’s Corner isn’t the half of it.
It was the spinoff that changed everything, and it continues with the East Argent announcement.
Overnight, the road to Hilton Head sprouted development like a match had been set to . Kroger, Wendy’s, Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, Staples, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, PetSmart, Petco, Holiday Inn Express, and now a Walmart and Sam’s Club and PGA Tour Superstore, and on and on and on it goes.
U.S. 278 was widened to six lanes between Hilton Head and Sun City, and the state finally finished that last portion of U.S. 278 through the swamp to I-95.
And tract after tract also owned by the paper company was sold for development that was more lucrative than pulpwood. Most of that land is today known as Bluffton, the formerly quirky one-square-mile town that has sprawled into one of the state’s fastest-growing cities.
Old-timers in the Lowcountry will tell you it wasn’t much fun back in the good old days, when jobs were scarce and hookworms weren’t.
But if I had a quarter for everyone I’ve heard over the years bemoaning over-development as the reason they left where they used to live, I could buy East Argent and turn it into a dog park.
When Del Webb changed everything, its CEO Philip J. Dion said this area “will grow. It’s naive to think it won’t grow. It will bloom and blossom whether Del Webb comes or not.”
He promised that Sun City would bring good neighbors, and that part also came true.
We’ll see what comes true with Argent East. But don’t underestimate the power of the A-bomb just dropped by the city of Hardeeville.