Don't miss deadline for upgrades at Coligny

Redeveloping the Coligny Circle area has been a top priority for the Town of Hilton Head Island for years. Now a financial deadline may determine whether the dream of breathing new life into the heart of town will come true.

Private property owners ought to make sure they don't miss an opportunity to leverage redevelopment in the area with the help of the town. The town has some legal limits on the money it has collected for redevelopment. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity. The town warns that agreements must be in place by the end of the year if it is to meet a deadline to use millions of dollars collected for improvements in a special tax district.

What's at stake is a total re-do of the Coligny area, which serves as the primary public gateway to the community's grandest attraction: the beach. It also has been the heart of commercial and high-density development for vacationers since modern development began around 1950. Beautification of Coligny Circle was the founding project of the island's first garden club. What has grown into Coligny Plaza was the site of Norris and Lois Richardson's daring venture to build a "supermarket" in the sandy woods where they initially saw many more squirrels than customers.

The Coligny Circle area -- and how it is used to present the community to the world -- runs deep in the DNA of Hilton Head. Now many want that presentation to rise to a new level.

Under a town staff proposal that was warmly received last December by Town Council, a quarter mile of Pope Avenue would be closed and turned into a park lined with new businesses and residences. Smaller roads with on-street parking would move traffic through the area at a much slower and safer pace. Pedestrians and bicyclists would be rewarded with what should be a pleasurable experience for gatherings, shopping, visiting and living. A new traffic circle would be built, and the existing one morphed into a green entryway to the Coligny Beach Park, which got a $1.6 million upgrade by the town in 2009, and benefits from its connection to improved leisure pathways on both sides of Pope Avenue.

But the grandest of plans will fall flat without input -- and a buy-in -- from the business community. The town and the major landowners need to work together. Whatever the town does needs to be useful in the real world, not just something that looks pretty on a designer's table.

In this case, the town is asking for a land swap with the private sector. That would require changes for the owners of Coligny and Heritage plazas. Both have hired consultants and architects to help them envision new ways to present themselves and do business.

We hope the deadline on using at least $6 million from the special tax district will spur continued study and planning. Like others, we'd like to see the traditional heart of Hilton Head Island thrive attractively and safely for generations to come. This opportunity for the public and private sectors to help each other should not be missed.