Beaufort News

Clemson students study Hilton Head's development woes

A group of Clemson University students gathered for a weeklong design workshop last month to help Hilton Head Island become younger.

Master's candidates and undergraduates in the university's School of Planning, Development, Preservation and Landscape Architecture presented their ideas on how the island could be redeveloped to attract and retain young families, town manager Steve Riley said.

Ten Clemson students and four faculty members compiled data, toured the island and interviewed residents. The question for the group: How does the island -- with its natural beauty, amenities, dated buildings and lack of a centralized entertainment or cultural district -- attract young professionals?

Their idea: Create a central area with trails and green space surrounded by residential and commercial development to create places to gather and socialize off the beach.

"It was a 'what if?' -- what would entice young people to live and work here?" Riley said. "And many had variations on a town-center theme of open spaces and trails surrounded by commercial and residential construction."

Since the island has little land left to develop, its best option is to convert older commercial property along main traffic corridors into denser, carefully planned villages that make walking from place to place easy, the group concluded.

The students focused on a commercial corridor from Beach City Road, down William Hilton Parkway to Mathews Drive, including Northridge Plaza, Port Royal Plaza and Pineland Station.

The themes closely mirror a recently completed report by the town, the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry as part of a national effort to turn distressed commercial property into parks.

Their concept is in keeping with a town proposal to trade land it owns south of Pope Avenue for commercially owned property north of the road to create a quarter-mile-long walking district of shops and cafes near Coligny Beach.

"It was a quick study that was creative, but needs further research," Riley said of the Clemson students' plan. "There were kernels of ideas we might follow down the road, but doesn't go much farther than that. It was mostly a team-building exercise to kick off the school year."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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