South island development, upgrades well under way

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The steel skeleton is nearly complete on the first building in the new University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) campus on Hilton Head Island's south end. Doors are expected to open this fall on this new home for the school's hospitality management pro

There's a Lowcountry rhythm in the movement from the Sea Pines traffic circle to the Coligny traffic circle on Hilton Head's south end.

The normal cadence is traffic humming along in both directions at about 35 m.p.h. It's likely to remain that way, at least for a while, until the drumming of development in the busy corridor takes a firm footing every day on both sides of Pope Avenue.

The convergence of development of the new University of South Carolina-Beaufort (USCB) campus, the Coligny redevelopment project and the tear-down and buildup of Heritage Plaza will certainly transform the relative passivity that exists now.

Can you hear the buzzing of construction yet? You will.

USCB officials and other town dignitaries shoveled dirt and broke ground on the new campus a year ago this month at 21 Office Park Road.

Construction has begun, the steel frame is up, and the doors are expected to open this fall for students enrolled in its hospitality management program.

The facility will house state-of-the-art classrooms, a center for the hospitality industry, and teaching and learning space for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley said that road improvements on Office Park Road and its intersection at Pope Avenue and the intersection at Greenwood Drive are expected to start in the next few weeks.

Residents had expressed their concern of traffic and parking congestion with the project when it was first proposed in 2014. It was not an easy sail-through with town commissions, public hearings and town council. Basically, the $24 million campus presence is part of the bigger picture Coligny Redevelopment Project for the south end.

The 11-acre Coligny district encompasses the area between the beach parking lot and Coligny circle.

Remember the under-spaced Coligny Beach parking area and the woods around it? Easy access to the beach with a skip across South Forest Beach Road at the circle?

In 2014, town council passed a resolution for staff to hire a consultant to formulate a concept plan for the entire Coligny area and for the town Planning Commission to forward a recommendation to the town council. Construction on the makeover was supposed to begin in September 2016, but stalled - due to hurricanes, shifting funds allocation, lawsuits and bidding complications.

The original master plan detailed roadway and intersection improvements, parking, a destination park and playground, an interactive children's museum, streetscape improvements and pedestrian improvements.

Roadwork along Pope Avenue, Lagoon Road, Nassau Street and South Forest Beach Drive flush out the plan. Projections of cost peg $18 million, with funding generated by tax increment financing, Riley said.

Riley said he expects the first round of bidding for road improvements to be awarded by early summer, with construction to begin after Labor Day. No bids were submitted previously for the upgrades.

Bidding on the Coligny Park construction is expected to occur this fall, with construction planned to begin in the spring 2019, said town urban designer Chris Darnell. Construction is expected to take 14 months, into 2020.

Smack in the middle of all the impending hustle and bustle along Pope Avenue is Heritage Plaza, a 3.8-acre parcel straddling Lagoon Street across from Coligny Plaza being developed by Southeastern Development Associates.

The heart of the project is a five-story, 115-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel with a rooftop terrace in the rear of the site, next to the elegant Sage Room restaurant.

Four existing buildings occupy the 40,000-square-foot mixed-use commercial center, and will be renovated. Current tenants New York City Pizza and the Plantation Café & Deli will remain.

The site plan incorporates an enlarged entry off Pope Avenue, as well as sidewalks and streetscapes.

The town has not received any plans for changes at Coligny Plaza.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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