Casino backers rebuffed, cut off at Hilton Head Republican luncheon

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Casino backers rebuffed, cut off at Hilton Head Republican luncheon

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, May 7, 2012   |  545 Words  |  

Hardeeville city manager Bob Nanni's attempt to pitch a proposed casino complex in Jasper County to the Hilton Head Island First Monday Republican Lunch Group began inauspiciously and ended prematurely.

The group, which had invited Nanni and former Hardeeville city manager Ted Felder to speak at its monthly meeting at Aunt Chilada's Easy Street Cafe, had already condemned plans for the complex in March.

But Nanni had hoped to at least inform members of the potential benefits he believes the casino would bring to the area, delivering a PowerPoint presentation he's shown to several civic associations in the past few months.

Those plans went awry before he even began speaking, when it was discovered that the plug Felder had brought to connect the presentation with the restaurant's projection system was the wrong size.

Group moderator Tom Hatfield asked his audience of about 100 to hold their comments until the end of the presentation -- "Everybody, be polite," he said -- before introducing Nanni and Felder.

But about 15 minutes into their joint presentation, Hatfield stood up and informed Nanni that he needed to wrap it up, prompting a tense exchange.

"I beg your pardon?" Nanni asked.

"You're done," Hatfield said, eliciting applause from many attendees, as the speakers left the podium.

Afterward, Hatfield explained that he rarely allows the luncheon to extend beyond 1:15 p.m. He added that an earlier address by the event's primary speaker, S.C. Superintendent of Public Education Mick Zais, had filled much of the available time.

"Superintendent Zais was the primary purpose for today's luncheon," Hatfield said. "Everything else was secondary."

Hatfield said much of his personal reservations about the proposed casino stem from its attachment to the name "Hilton Head."

The casino would be located within Hilton Head Lakes, a 4,700-acre residential community divided by U.S. 278 in Hardeeville.

"The biggest mistake town leaders here ever made was in not copyrighting the Hilton Head name," Hatfield said.

His concerns were shared by Hilton Head resident Don Williamson, who attended the luncheon.

"This is mainly about the protection of our own area," he said. He's confident, though, the project won't get the approval from Gov. Nikki Haley it needs to move forward.

"I think it's already been decided in Columbia," he said.

The governor has opposed the complex since it was first proposed in January. The development's leaders hope to formally present their plans to her by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Nanni intends to continue pitching the complex, though it's unlikely he'll return soon to the lunch group.

"It's frustrating," he said as he loaded his projection screen into his sport utility vehicle. "I don't think we were given a fair opportunity today."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Casino developers optimistic despite opposition from Haley, others, April 21, 2012

Hilton Head Republican group wary of Hardeeville casino, March 5, 2012