RBC Heritage

Council backs off Heritage vote after support wanes for $1 million contribution

Greenskeeping intern Ryland Tewes of Australia flattens the putting green Monday at Harbour Town Golf Links in preparation for next week's Heritage.
Greenskeeping intern Ryland Tewes of Australia flattens the putting green Monday at Harbour Town Golf Links in preparation for next week's Heritage. SARAH WELLIVER/The Island Packet

Beaufort County Council was scheduled to vote on an additional $1 million contribution to the Heritage golf tournament Monday but removed the agenda item when it became clear the measure wouldn't pass.

The proposed allocation is one piece of a backup plan to save the PGA Tour event by using a mix of state, local and private money to bring in $30 million over five years, if the tournament can't find a title sponsor.

Council approved its $1 million contribution of hospitality-tax revenue on first reading two weeks ago by a 6-5 margin. But the votes weren't there Monday for the second of three readings.

"I know there are at least two people that voted for it last time who have told me they're going to vote against it this time," Councilman Paul Sommerville told the Finance Committee before council's full meeting. "I understand that it's going to go down in flames if we vote on it tonight, and I don't want to see that happen." Sommerville didn't reveal those council members' names.

The county's allocation should be waiting in the wings, Sommerville said, so if the other pieces of the plan -- funding from the state and the Town of Hilton Head Island -- come through, council can be a player in the discussion.

Some council members seemed unwilling to take further action until Hilton Head's council and the state get on board.

"The people that have got the most to gain are the ones who are sitting back and waiting," said Councilman Jerry Stewart, who previously voted for the plan. "So I'm very concerned about that, and I think that we've sort of got the tail wagging the dog here."

Finance Committee members also debated whether the Heritage tournament boosts the local economy.

Councilman Stu Rodman presented traffic data showing an increase in vehicles using the bridge between Hilton Head and the mainland during Heritage week.

Data for the first two weeks of March and May 2010 showed a baseline of about 49,900 vehicle trips per day. The daily average during Heritage week last year reached about 53,800.

"So there were roughly 4,000 extra cars per day that were crossing the bridge," Rodman said. "There is some level of bump, if you will, that occurs Heritage week from purely a traffic standpoint -- in terms of more people coming and going."

Rodman also presented hotel occupancy data he received from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. An average of 71.75 percent of hotel rooms were booked in April from 1999 to 2010, at an average daily rate of $137. Occupancy during those years from Thursday to Saturday of Heritage week averaged 84 percent, at an average rate of $154.

Councilman Steve Baer argued there is little to no boost, using chamber data to graph the number of visitors to Hilton Head from January to December for the past two years.

"You can see here, if you look at the month of April -- at least at the monthly level -- there's no discernible Heritage bump," Baer said.

The county projects it will collect about $1.84 million in revenues from hospitality and accommodations taxes for 2011. Baer said his data show about 8.3 percent of visitors come during April -- meaning about $153,000 of those taxes, which come from meals and lodging, were generated during Heritage month.

Assuming for the sake of argument, Baer said, that 20 percent of all visitors in April were brought by the Heritage, that means the county's boost in hospitality and accommodations taxes from the tournament would equal about $30,000.

"So if you all wanted to give the Heritage $30,000 per year based on these numbers," Baer said, "I think that would be a fair thing to do."

Council members who support the contribution say they plan to wait to see what Hilton Head and the state do. Under the proposal, the town would contribute $6 million; Sea Pines, $3 million; and the state, $18 million. That's on top of the $1 million County Council and Hilton Head council have each already allocated for next week's Heritage.

The origins of the plan to save the Heritage are not entirely clear.

Rodman presented the plan last month after meeting with Heritage organizers and other government officials, but County Council Chairman Weston Newton last week said Heritage organizers sought the plan.

"This isn't some County Council creation," Newton said. "Stu presented the plan, but it was based on a Heritage request."

When asked about the issue last week, Rodman said, "We just all agreed we needed a backup plan. I don't remember who proposed it first."

Staff writer Josh McCann contributed to this report.