March 2016

A Note From Our Mayors

Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

A Note from David Bennett
Performing Arts, entertainment and cultural Venue to be considered

Our Arts & Cultural Strategic Planning Committee worked diligently last year to study the arts, cultural and heritage organizations and assets of our community in order to determine the current and potential economic impact of them, assess opportunities for increased collaboration, and develop a plan for sustainability.

The resumes of the nine citizens working on this committee are impressive and the amount of creative and intellectual capital that was voluntarily employed on behalf of our community was astounding.

This committee, headed by volunteer and former IBM executive and management consultant Jane Joseph, put forth three recommendations in their comprehensive 72 page report, which may be found on the Town’s website. The Hilton Head Island Town Council unanimously endorsed these recommendations. One of them is that the town should evaluate the issues and opportunities surrounding the topic of “venue”. Although the question of venue was outside the scope of the committee, it was compelled to include it in their recommendations because of their research and the statistical frequency of the topic.

The level of interest and the questions and opportunities surrounding the matter warrant a thorough public discussion based upon facts. From a scientific perspective we should begin with the question: Would it be beneficial to Hilton Head Island to participate in the establishment of a comprehensive Arts, Entertainment and Cultural Venue/Campus?

Our hypothesis to this question is: Yes, it would be beneficial. A natural follow up question therefore is: What level of participation would yield the best return on investment to the Town and its’ citizens? The vetting and ultimate answer to the second question is what will constitute the testing of our hypothesis, which will occur via a soon-to-be-appointed task force augmented by professional support and further public/council discussion. I believe the return may be measured in terms of enhancements to our quality of life as well as economically.

We do have a considerable amount of data from which to draw as a starting point thanks to an in-depth study that has been performed by one of the nation’s foremost arts consultants paid for by a group of independent business executives and arts enthusiasts living on Hilton Head.

This study researches other performing arts venues located within communities similar to ours. While not all prospective municipal projects have a meaningful return on investment, the analysis indicates that an arts, cultural and heritage campus on Hilton Head Island has significant potential. Additionally the large island arts organizations are in critical need of more appropriate and suitably sized facilities to expand their programs and manage their production costs more effectively. For instance, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra concert performances are sold out shows, and their current venues are not available for the presentation of additional performances. Almost every large arts and cultural organization on the island would benefit.

Retailers, restaurants, recreational services and other local businesses with seasonal revenue challenges would garner a steadier stream of additional income. Other such venues in tourist locations have shown clear evidence of significant revenue impact, not to mention the overall improvement of the community’s image as a premier destination for visitors. If we move forward with the venue/campus, financing will likely come from a variety of sources including local, county, state and potentially federal governments. Private funding, including an endowment will also be included.

As a developer, I know from experience, that the necessary pieces of a project are rarely assembled in a perfect and straight line. Based upon this experience and what we learned along the way as the aforementioned committee conducted its’ research, Council Member Kim Likins and I recently asked the full Council to support the submittal of an application requesting $30 million funding from the potential Capital Sales Tax Referendum as a placeholder while this issue is more fully vetted. Town Council unanimously approved the submittal. 

A Note from Lisa Sulka
Exciting Changes at oyster factory Park

As we finish out the first months of the new year, I’m excited to share information with you about several impending community projects. At January’s Council meeting, we authorized a contract to begin major construction and improvements to the Oyster Factory Park. You’ve probably already noticed the beginnings of a transformation at the park with the recent under brushing that increases visibility of the river. Additional lighting in the oyster roast area enhances the festive nature of that portion of the park and improves safety during evening events. However, implementation of our recently updated Oyster Factory Park Master Plan will take a big first step with the construction of the courtesy dock, observation deck, and new two-lane boat ramp.

The expanded ramp and a 150-foot courtesy dock will be completed this spring, just in time for boating season. The improvements will make it much more convenient for our local boaters to launch and load their boats at this busy site. Connection between the parking lot and the boat ramp will be provided by a sidewalk and wooden ramp. Not only does this provide safer pedestrian access from the parking lot to the dock, but the sidewalk will also be ADA compliant, allowing our neighbors with disabilities access to the May River’s beautiful views. Near the water, access to the shell beach for beachgoers, kayakers, and paddle boarders will be maintained via a ramp that ties directly to the pier head.

The second construction activity that will take place is the expansion of the existing parking lot. The parking lot will be extended into the area west of the current parking area and will provide approximately 20 additional boat trailer and 55 vehicle parking spaces.

We are also excited to see the start of the restoration of The Garvin House. The Garvin family home is said to be the earliest known Freedman-owned home along the May River in our area. It is an important and unique part of Bluffton’s history and culture. Preservation work will begin within the first quarter of the year and will add more value to the park’s culture and history. There has been a strong response to this project with a significant amount of excitement generated within the community. The new Oyster Factory Park will ultimately become a showpiece along the May River.

Yes, Oyster Factory Park will be a very busy place this year. There may possibly be some inconvenience, but staff will make sure to keep it to a minimum. There will be signage and public announcements to keep the public aware of any closings or limitations on the use of the facilities. We’re sure you’ll agree that the end result will be worth it. This is just the beginning of what will be an exciting time of changes and improvements in our Oyster Factory Park. 

For more information on the Oyster Factory Park, please visit their facebook page at:

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