Hilton Head buys land for rowing center

The Town of Hilton Head Island freed more land for a planned rowing and sailing center on its northeast end.

For $3.5 million, the town bought 5.3 acres along Squire Pope Road, next to 2.2 acres it already owns and that once was home to a seafood co-op.

Mayor Tom Peeples said the purchase allows the town to expand or reconfigure a proposed $1 million rowing and sailing center with access to Skull Creek.

"This gives us more room to design this thing and not have it quite so compressed," community development director Charles Cousins said. "Secondly, it gets us closer to Skull Creek, and we can put the dock in an area with better water access."

The land will be purchased with proceeds from a 2010 land-acquisition bond sale.

The two vacant, wooded parcels were valued at a total of about $3 million, according to online county assessor records.

Town manager Steve Riley said the island spent about $500,000 more based on an appraisal that reflects the ability to accommodate high-density commercial development on the land. The properties were owned by the heirs of Ben Walters and the Fuller Family Land Trust.

Both parcels are zoned to allow for up to 42,623 square feet of commercial use, including condos and apartments.

"We are glad that we are able to take this property off the real estate market and preclude further retail development, resort uses or other high-density development," Riley said. "It's a property that is great for recreational use, with deep-water frontage."

The town awaits a permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to clean up the site, which was littered with dilapidated boats and includes remnants of a pier, town engineer Scott Liggett said. The cleanup should cost about $61,500, Liggett said.

Cousins said construction is expected to start next fiscal year, which begins July 1, should town council approve plans for the center.

The rowing and sailing center would be paid for with a combination of public and private money.

The council voted Aug. 2 to spend $692,000 to design and build it.

The Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club has pledged about $356,600 in donated equipment, such as boats, and maintenance.

Sailors and rowers say existing facilities are too small, too crowded or not open to the public.

"This will give us seven beautiful acres, and we can make a nice park and have plenty of room to build a very nice rowing and sailing center," said Luther Strayer, a member of both the Carolina Sailing Center and the rowing club's boards. "We are already working up brochures and marketing."