Sailing-center plans hit headwind

The site of a proposed rowing and sailing center on Hilton Head Island will be cleaned up soon. What happens there next is uncertain.

In October, the town spent $3.5 million to buy 5.3 acres along Squire Pope Road to expand or reconfigure a planned $1 million rowing and sailing center with access to Skull Creek. The project was to be a private-public partnership, but now the center's organizers want the town to play a larger financial role, according to town staff.

Construction was tentatively slated for next year but might now be delayed until 2014 because of the amount of work involved and competing requests from other groups for town support.

Town Council also is weighing requests for a park at Mitchelville, expanding the island's recreation center, redeveloping the Coligny Beach area and others plans. The council will discuss its options at a budget workshop in May.

"There will be a great challenge to match projects with the appropriate funds, not only to build them, but maintain them into the future," said Scott Liggett, town director of public projects and facilities.

The Carolina Sailing Center and Palmetto Rowing Club pledged about $356,600 in private donations to develop the center. Operations and management of the facility would be handled by the Island Recreation Association. The town would contribute $67,000 a year toward operating costs, according to the August proposal.

The council on Aug. 3 set aside money in the current budget to clean up the site and directed staff to designate money in next year's capital improvement budget to design and build the rowing and sailing center.Town staff has proposed setting aside $150,000 in next year's budget for design work.

Construction, expected to cost $1.5 million, would take place in 2014, according to a staff proposal of public projects planned for 2012 and beyond. Competing needs and scope of work may not make it feasible to pay for design and construction in 2012, Liggett said.

The town is taking bids to remove two abandoned boats and demolish a dilapidated dock from the center's site at 135 Squire Pope Road. Work is expected to begin sometime in April and last 30 days.

The cleanup clears the way for center supporters to host fundraisers and bring prospective donors to the site.

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

Luther Strayer, a member of both the Carolina Sailing Center and the Palmetto Rowing Club boards, said supporters are grateful for the additional land and glad the site will be cleaned up. However, they are disappointed construction might get pushed back.

"If they pushed that off to 2014, that's terrible," Strayer said. "We've got 40 kids rowing. We need more boats. We need places to put the boats. The kids get an hour of practice, instead of two hours. The quicker we can get on-site and a place to put the boats, the better."

The Town Planning Commission's Capital Improvements Program Committee meets Monday to review several projects that would be designated priorities for 2012. The proposal would devote $1 million to parks, including improvements to the Island Recreation Center and the Chaplin Linear Park development.

Plans also call for road and drainage improvements and pathway construction to make Coligny and other areas of the island more attractive to private development. About $15 million in public projects are planned for 2012.