Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Have you heard? There has been much back and forth debate this past month in the local media and at numerous gated-community cocktail parties about the topic of a performing arts, entertainment and cultural campus for Hilton Head Island and some intrigue over our Town Council’s January vote to request funding from the Beaufort County Capital Sales Tax Referendum for such an endeavor.

I, for one, appreciate the beginnings of community conversation and feel responsible to establish truth where there may be misquotes and misinformation being promulgated as to the nature of Town Council’s application for capital sales tax funding and prospective locations of such an ambitious campus.

As I have noted before on these pages several months ago, Town Council authorized a highly qualified citizens’ committee to study the arts, cultural and heritage organizations and assets of our community in order to determine their current and potential economic impact, to assess opportunities for increased collaboration, and to develop a plan for sustainability for this important facet of our quality of life on Hilton Head Island.

The committee did a stellar job! Performing considerable due-diligence and authoring a 72-page detailed report, the committee members produced three key recommendations, one of which was that our town should evaluate the issues and opportunities surrounding the possibility of establishing a grand campus-style venue, a comprehensive centerpiece for the island’s arts, culture, heritage and entertainment.

Understandably, some citizens of our community responded to this recommendation with trepidation—especially when Town Council took the additional step of applying for $30 million (the request has been reduced to $9.5 million as of the date of this writing) from the potential capital sales tax referendum proceeds, if such a landmark development were determined to be both financially and economically viable.

It was clearly understood and embraced by Town Council that these funds, if secured, were simply a “placeholder”; but that fact has been noticeably ignored by some in a desire to immediately discredit what could actually become a significant economic asset and perhaps a heralded quality-of-life component for the future of Hilton Head Island. By serving as a “placeholder,” the $9.5 million is simply a “stake in the ground,” not actually a commitment to spend money. As a developer, I must do this with frequency, as no one source of funds typically covers all necessary expenditures. To repeat, if such a remarkable campus were not to show itself as viable and of significant benefit to our community, then the funds would simply never be spent, and any repayment obligation would disappear. Furthermore, any discussion regarding the location of a campus is premature, as Town Council has no pre-disposition toward a specific location.

As I pen this, I am reminded of something Oscar Wilde often quoted: “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

A friend of mine hit the nail on the head when he said: “It’s bewildering to me how so many people know so little about risk and reward when it comes to the arts. These are exactly the same people who may have no qualms about investing enormous sums of money into a golf course community before it is ever built and without even knowing for sure if it will ever become successful.

Does that make anyone who questions the idea of such a magnificent indoor/outdoor facility a cynic? Certainly not! Many questions should rightly be on everyone’s mind, beginning with this one: What, indeed, is the value of such a campus to Hilton Head Island?

Anyone serious about our future relevance, economic welfare and quality of life should ponder this. Consider scores of real-life examples of success. A local organization of residents, which calls itself Community Vision, has investigated the issue thoroughly using more than $100,000 of its own capital. They point to places like Vail, Colorado, which is similar in many respects to Hilton Head, as an example to study.

Log onto the Internet to investigate quality-of-life importance as well as the economic impact of arts and culture to communities like ours across the USA and around the world. On the website AmericansForTheArts.com, for example, Randy Cohen, the organization’s vice president for research explains, “Arts and culture is a $135 billion industry in our country.” He maintains that for every ticket sold, another $24 is spent in the local economy beyond the price of admission.

Actor Kevin Spacey, who is a formidable advocate for the arts and their importance to local communities, asserts that the arts (1) improve a community’s competitive edge; (2) create a foundation for defining a sense of place; and (3) help integrate the vision of communities and business leaders.

As Spacey concluded in one presentation: “Let’s shout louder to help those in positions of influence realize the value of arts and culture to our economy… The question is not ‘What can the economy do for the arts?’ but rather, ‘What can the arts do for our economy?’ The answer: a good deal.”

This mayor has heard that shout from our arts and cultural community. So, please, let’s agree to debate and deliberate together the viability of such a campus. And if we determine that it is believable, let’s discuss whether Hilton Head Island should, once again, be strategically visionary in directing its future.

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