Lecture series, airport denied Hilton Head bed-tax grants

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Lecture series, airport denied Hilton Head bed-tax grants

By BRIAN HEFFERNAN
bheffernan@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, December 13, 2012   |  557 Words  |  

Two prominent organizations asked the Town of Hilton Head Island for a slice of the accommodations-tax-grant pie and walked away Thursday with none.

The Hilton Head Island Airport and Hilton Head Island Institute were not among the 23 organizations recommended for a share of about $1 million in grants by the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee.

The accommodations tax, commonly called a "bed tax," is a 3-percent tax on overnight lodging. One percent of it is distributed in grants to tourism-related projects and organizations.

The Hilton Head Island Institute asked for $150,000 to spend on the first year of its proposed nine- to 10-day event that would feature a series of lectures, panel discussion and workshops next fall.

The event would attract as many as 2,500 visitors per week, according to Allen Ward, institute chairman. It would be modeled on programs such as the Chautauqua Institution in New York and the Aspen Institute in Colorado.

"$150,000 out of the gate is extremely high without any data, without any metrics to go on," said committee member Mike Alsko. "It's a leap of faith."

While many committee members praised the organization and the event's promise, they also noted that the list of new organizations grows each year, which can draw funding away from proven tourism drivers.

"We've got lots of worthy and tested causes here, and this is an unproven one," said committee chairman Bret Martin.

AIRPORT DENIED

The county requested $132,608 to pay for part of its federally mandated police and fire-protection costs at the Hilton Head Airport. According to its application, tourists make up 76 percent of its traffic.

Committee members acknowledged the county-owned airport's impact on tourism to the island but ultimately denied the request, deferring to a 2010 opinion by the state Tourism Expenditure Review Committee that said the county cannot use the grants for police and fire-protection.

Joe Mazzei, chairman of the Beaufort County Airports Board, said the advisory committee feels prohibited by the state's policy, and the Airports Board "has done everything we can do."

Mazzei said he expects talks and possibly further action between Beaufort County and the state to resolve the disagreement.

OTHER GRANTS

The largest grant -- $250,000 -- recommended by the committee was for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Visitor and Convention Bureau. The grant came with an earmark that $150,000 be used to promote and market the island's golf attractions.

Other large amounts recommended included:

*$142,000 to the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.

  • $168,000 to the Coastal Discovery Museum
  • $115,000 to Concours d'Elegance.
  • The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina was advanced its $346,000 allocation earlier this year by Town Council to meet an emergency funding shortfall.

    The committee's recommendations Thursday will be forwarded to Town Council for a final decision.

    Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

    Related links:

    Heavy-hitters rally around ambitious plan for new Hilton Head Island festival, Sept. 8, 2012.

    Hilton Head group pushing for island 'renaissance', Aug. 27, 2012.