A $10 gate fee is one step closer to becoming a reality for Sea Pines visitors, though it’s not a done deal.
On Monday, the Community Services Associates board, which represents homeowners, commercial interests and the resort in Sea Pines, voted 13-3, with one member abstaining, to increase the fee from $6 to $10 between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The decision came after more than 20 minutes of discussion, much of which revolved around the potential impact a fee increase would have on businesses in the resort, and just how much Sea Pines business is attributable to visitors.
A reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette was allowed to attend the meeting, which is normally only open to property owners. More than 60 residents attended.
Last Thursday, the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners board, which represents most of the homeowners, voted unanimously to increase the gate fee.
In order for a new gate fee to go into effect, CSA must now receive written approval from Sea Pines Resort and the Sea Pines Center, according to CSA president Mark Griffith. If one entity doesn’t agree to the increase, the fee will not go up.
During Monday’s meeting, Mark King, a CSA board member representing commercial interests, said the owner of Sea Pines Center does not approve increasing the gate fee to $10, though he did not specify a reason. As the center’s manager, he said he needed to abstain from the vote.
Beverly Serral, a CSA board member representing residents, said increasing the fee could have the combined positive effect of raising gate revenue while lowering the number of visitors who don’t spend money at Sea Pines businesses. Serral voted in favor of the fee increase.
“Part of the rationale to further discuss this, is that size of an increase — a 66 percent increase — is a substantial increase in the gate fee,” said Cary Corbitt, a CSA member representing the resort. “Also, is it predicated on trying to limit traffic to the resort, which could be deemed a restriction of trade? Those are discussions that have come up in the (gate entry) committee, and that’s why we really have not come to consensus on what we can approve and what we can move forward coming out of the committee.”
Corbitt, who voted for the gate fee increase, noted the fee is “one leg of the stool” that raises income for CSA to cover its expenses, and that other avenues of income should be identified going forward.
“There is a lot of concern in the business community about the possible reduction of traffic,” said Steve Birdwell, president of Sea Pines Resort and CSA board member. “We understand that it directly affects individual businesses but also realize CSA’s need to increase its revenues.”
Although supporting the fee increase, Griffith said it’s important to discuss the matter further.
“There needs to be some positive dialogue,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in this room would like to negatively impact the businesses of this community. We would like to generate as many dollars as we can generate.”
ASPPPO board members, at their Thursday meeting, said the fee hike could increase gate revenue by about $700,000, though the exact figure is difficult to predict because it is unknown if the $4 increase would reduce traffic into Sea Pines.
Sea Pines Resort has included support of a gate fee increase in its terms of a controversial referendum to expand The Inn & Club at Harbour Town. Last Friday, Birdwell said the resort would approve an increase prior to the referendum vote, which is scheduled for early fall.
Griffith said last week he would like to see the fee go up as soon as possible if all parties agree to the increase.
The last gate fee increase was in 2013 when it was raised $1, bringing it to the current $6.
Who has approved a gate fee increase?
- Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners
- Community Services Associates
What comes next?
- Notice of the approval will be sent to the Sea Pines Center and Sea Pines Resort, both of which must give written approval of the fee increase for it to take effect.
- CSA president Mark Griffith said it is likely there will be more discussion on the matter considering there is the possibility of Sea Pines Center not supporting the increase, which came up at Monday’s CSA board meeting.
- If the Sea Pines Center and Sea Pines Resort give approval, the gate fee increase will take effect immediately.