Island group envisions new performing arts center

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Island group envisions new performing arts center

By DANIEL BROWNSTEIN dbrownstein@islandpacket.com 843-706-8125
Published Sunday, March 29, 2009 in The Island Packet  |  609 Words  |  news/local

Walter Graver imagines a time when Hilton Head Island has its own performing arts center, with lectures and meetings by day and concerts, dance and theater at night.
In late 2006, Graver founded a nonprofit group of residents, Community Vision of Hilton Head, to explore the concept with the help of an arts consulting group. They've spent about $40,000.
The idea: Build a 1,500 seat hall with moveable walls that open out on a grass amphitheater. The facility would be larger than the island's existing performance spaces, and when open to the elements, could accommodate national acts.
The price tag: Still not known.
Graver and others in his group say such a facility would not only enrich the lives of year-round residents, but would also broaden the island's appeal to tourists, providing an alternative to golf, tennis and the beach.
"We see it as a major unfilled opportunity," said Dan Castro. "Instead of building bricks and mortar, let's look at it as building a new industry. It would attract tourists and it would impact local businesses."
After a meeting with three members of Hilton Head Island Town Council last week, the group is moving forward with a second phase of its study, this time focusing on the cost and location of such a center.
If the project still seems feasible, Community Vision of Hilton Head will begin trying to put together a business plan and fundraising effort.
It's clear to even those who want it the most that the endeavor faces an uphill battle.
"We are not going to pursue this if it isn't feasible," Graver said. "We will not go forward with this if there isn't an endowment in place and if we don't know how we're going to pay for long-term maintenance."
There have been at least two attempts to build a performing arts center on Hilton Head in the past 15 years or so. Both proved to be unsuccessful.
When the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina was built about a decade ago, a 950-seat concert hall was proposed, but scratched due to high costs.
Before that, local musician and concert promoter Gregg Russell tried to build a 20,000 square-foot pavilion next to Shelter Cove Community Park that fell through when the community opposed it.
"I almost got run off the island," Russell said. "I wouldn't want to rattle that hornet's nest again."
A Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce task force studied the issue three years ago and determined a 1,500 seat venue couldn't be supported by arts groups because they don't stage enough events. Construction costs were estimated at $12 million, not including the land.
Local arts groups call Graver's quest "noble," but are skeptical because it would be hard to find a good place to put a performing arts center without upsetting neighbors and it's unclear whether a community so detached from a major metropolitan center could even support one.
Russell, who has brought national acts to Sea Pines and Honey Horn, questions whether the idea is practical based on the amount charged by bands with national followings.
"It's a very expensive thing to do," he said. "It takes an entity with large pockets to say, despite the risk of bad weather, let's take the risk and bring these guys in. It's a tough world out there in this business."
And Town Council, for its part, doesn't want to be those deep pockets.
"I just don't want this to grow into something where the community raises $5 million and thinks the town will pay for the rest," said Councilman John Safay.