More groups seeking more 'bed-tax' money from Hilton Head

Arts, cultural and tourism groups are lining up for money from Hilton Head Island's accommodations tax revenues, and some are asking for more than they received last year.

This year, The town fielded 31 applications for money generated by the 2 percent state tax on overnight lodging, compared to 20 applications last year.

They're asking for 77 percent more money than was doled out last year -- $2.3 million versus $1.3 million.

With the town expecting only about $815,000 to be available for new grants, competition for this "bed-tax" money will be stiff.

Several new groups applied this year, and several asked for more money than in the past, said Willis Shay, chairman of the town's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee.

Among them:

  • The Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs Hilton Head's PGA Tour event, applied for $370,000 for advertising.
  • The foundation received about $40,000 in bed-tax money to survey the tournament's economic impact years ago, but it hasn't previously applied for advertising assistance, Shay said.

    Director Steve Wilmot said the Heritage golf tournament helps promote hotels, golf courses and restaurants in town.

    "The tournament itself markets the entire island," Wilmot said.

    The foundation's board has thought about applying for years, but was divided about the idea, Wilmot said.

    Now that the tournament's future is in question because it lacks a title sponsor, "maybe that pushed a few over the edge," he said.

  • The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce applied for $425,000 to market Hilton Head as a destination and $91,300 for a program to train hospitality workers about the town's history and "brand."
  • Both requests are in addition to about $1 million the chamber receives each year by law as the town's designated marketing organization.

    This year's $516,300 in supplemental requests represents an increase of more than $25,000 from the chamber's $491,000 in supplemental requests last year.

    President and CEO Bill Miles said the chamber is asking for less marketing money this year, but its total request increased because town officials asked it to start the training program to replace one previously run by the Hilton Head Hospitality Association.

    Even though the recession has strained municipal budgets, public money is necessary if the town's tourism-based economy is to thrive, Miles said.

    "We're not looking to merely survive as a tourism community," he said. "That takes resources."

  • The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina applied for $200,000 to maintain its 45,000-square-foot building.
  • The center, which last year applied for $414,542 from this year's revenues, has never before sought bed-tax money to care for its building, president and CEO Kathleen Bateson said.

    About 200,000 people a year enter the building, which is used for everything from a voting station, flu shot clinics and meetings of nonprofit organizations to religious events and school graduations, she said.

    The center does not charge many entities that use the building, she said.

    It seeks aid to cover about $417,000 in maintenance it expects to incur this year as donations, sponsorship and ticket sales are declining, she said.

    "We're happy to service the community, but we need some help now in taking care of this building," Bateson said.

    About 36 percent of participants in the center's programs are visitors, Bateson said.

  • The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra applied for a $100,000 "special request" to cover expenses and begin to rebuild its reserves, which it depleted because of "significant deficits" three out of the last four years, according to its application.
  • In addition to that request, the orchestra last year applied for a $175,000 grant from this year's revenues.

    Executive director Mary Briggs could not be reached for comment Friday, but the application states the orchestra "cannot withstand another bad year."

    "We greatly need assistance at this time of financial vulnerability," the application states. "If the orchestra is forced to close its doors as has happened in both Savannah and more recently in Charleston, it will be a sad, sad loss for our musicians and for the hundreds of residents and many more visitors who attend our concerts and special events."

    Some of the request is intended to cover the costs of a national search for a new music director. The orchestra also expects "to see a temporary reduction in support from supporters who oppose the direction the orchestra has taken in seeking new artistic leadership," according to the application.

    The orchestra's board recently decided not to extend the contract of longtime music director and conductor Mary Woodmansee Green beyond June 2011.

  • The Hilton Head Island Airport applied for $300,000 to help pay for fire and law enforcement services, facility improvements and advertising.
  • The airport has not sought bed-tax funds before.

    Much of the request is for maintenance the airport has deferred for years, Beaufort County airport director Paul Andres said.

    Fire and law enforcement services at the airport are not fully covered by airlines and the federal Transportation Security Administration, he said.

    "We feel we contribute directly to the tourism and business economy of the island," Andres said.