Over the past few months, the Town of Hilton Head Island’s Venue Committee has listened to the community provide feedback and ask insightful questions. Many of those queries are addressed below, and we look forward to an ongoing conversation.
To your questions:
I’ve heard the Town wants to build a $65 million arts campus and that taxpayers will be on the hook for it? That’s incorrect. The $65 million figure was initially produced by a private group of residents and furthered during discussion of the upcoming sales tax referendum. However, there is no connection to the current, official and comprehensive effort undertaken by the Venue Committee.
The diverse group of citizen-volunteers on the committee is tasked with finding whether an arts campus is feasible and sustainable in a way that meets the needs of the community and Arts, Culture and History (AC&H) organizations, while maximizing return on investment for residents. If so, the committee will make recommendations in the coming months as to where the campus might be located, what it would look like and how it would be sustainably funded.
Town Council has also made clear that a facility will only be considered if it is a public-private partnership and that an endowment must be raised first to ensure long-term sustainability.
Put simply, this is not a “build-and-hope” situation.
I also heard the campus was slated to be constructed at Honey Horn. Also incorrect. The Venue Committee is only now beginning to analyze potential sites and Honey Horn is leased to the Coastal Discovery Museum until at least 2047.
Why is money being spent on an arts campus consultant before the sales tax referendum is put to a vote this fall? The Town of Hilton Head Island has made a long-term commitment to elevate Arts, Culture and History here. The initiative to explore the campus was in place long before funding from the sales tax referendum became a possibility. A potential campus does not hinge on that vote, which also calls for many other important projects related to roads, the Island Recreation Center, public safety and more.
The town has allocated up to $200,000 for professional surveying of the community and a national consultant to help guide the overall process. The consultant, who will be selected in the coming weeks, will provide expertise and further credibility to an already fully transparent process that includes regular meetings open to the public and monthly coffee chats. It is also important to note that the budget is phased, meaning funds will only be spent if the project progresses.
The Town of Hilton Head Island originally requested $30 million for the arts campus, but that number has decreased? When Beaufort County introduced the idea of sales tax referendum it asked for projects “above and beyond” the Town’s normal operating budget. The arts campus was the sort of “big picture” project that fit the bill. While there were no concrete designs in hand for such a facility, the referendum represented the opportunity to help fund a campus if it were deemed a viable option in the future (again, supported by private partners and with an endowment in place). It’s important to note that, if the campus was determined unviable, referendum revenue collection would have ceased before that money was received.
But there is still $6.2 million on the referendum for the arts venue? Yes. If the referendum passes and the campus moves forward, those funds would be used for planning, study and design. If the campus is found unviable, the referendum would conclude before the funding is collected.
The town has plenty of venues already. Why not use those? Hilton Head has numerous smaller and often-utilized spaces. However, AC&H organizations and entertainers have made clear that they are constrained by venue size and availability for use. Hilton Head also routinely misses out on larger touring acts due to the lack of an appropriately sized venue.
The town already supports the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. How is that venue involved in this process? The Venue Committee has been specifically tasked with recommending — if feasible — the structure, cost and funding of an arts campus and its sustainability in a way that meets the needs of the community and AC&H organizations, while maximizing return on investment for residents. Included in that task is a directive to make specific recommendations regarding the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s venue requirements. The process to develop those recommendations is ongoing.
Why is the town so adamant about supporting Arts, Culture and History? Arts, Culture and History enrich Hilton Head Island, both in quantitative economic impact and quality of life. Nearly 70 for-profit and non-profit arts organizations operate on the island, hundreds of jobs are supported by Arts, Culture and History and many thousands of residents and visitors enjoy AC&H each day. Also of note: the annual dollar total spent by nonprofit AC&H organizations and their audiences on Hilton Head Island is conservatively $21 million.
Through its support for Arts, Culture and History, the town is not seeking to diminish the beach-and-family lifestyle, natural setting and golf offerings that have made the island such a success. Rather, with an eye on the future, the idea is to elevate all aspects of AC&H — from entertainment experiences such as concerts and stage productions to cultural site immersion — and position Hilton Head Island as a diverse vacation destination and a desirable place to live for a broad array of residents both now and in the years ahead.
Cindy Creamer chairs the Town of Hilton Head Island’s Venue Committee.