The State of Hilton Head Island

Drew-LaughlinhhiOne way to illustrate the state of the Hilton Head Island is to envision a driving or bicycle tour.

Let’s start our tour from the southern part of our island in the waters in and around Harbor Town.

The iconic Harbor Town Marina and nearby Braddock Cove area have finally been dredged so boating access and docking improves, and RBC Heritage aerial photography coverage is enhanced. (A short time ago, RBC and Boeing stepped-up to sponsor the Heritage, and Town Council immediately made a five-year funding commitment to fill the remaining need and ensure the continued presence of an event that generates $84 million per year to the local and state economy.)

In Sea Pines, the Sea Pines Harbor Town Clubhouse is under construction, and the Plantation Golf Club and Beach Club have been built. As you exit the resort, check out the $6 million Harris Teeter Park Plaza redevelopment.

Leaving Sea Pines, take a right onto Pope Avenue and see what was the old Holiday Inn - now remodeled ($5 million) as the Beach House - and enjoy the popular Coligny Beach Park and fantastic and safe pathways along Pope Avenue.

Back to U.S. 278, and pass by the $30 million Sonesta Resort renovation.

Cruise by the $74 million Shelter Cove Towne Centre redevelopment and see a transformed area with a $4.5 million waterfront park to come. Visit the newly opened Whole Foods store.

You are now driving by the nationally acclaimed Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce headquarters on the left, and on the right, in Palmetto Dunes, tour the remodeled ($17 million) Omni Resort. In the neighborhood, the town is considering a Chaplin Linear Park that could add an island amenity that makes quite a statement (check out our web page at for details).

At Port Royal Plantation, the Westin undertook a $30 million dollar renovation. The town purchased a 105-acre golf course (Planter’s Row) at Port Royal and will determine its use down the road. But how about the move there by the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’ Elegance, a wildly successful weeklong event?

At Pineland Mall, the developer is considering a huge transformation of the tired property in the near future.

A rowing and sailing center is under construction off Squire Pope Road that will afford non-motorized boaters, crabbers and fishermen access to north-end water.

We are blessed with an arts and cultural community up and down our Island which includes the Arts Center, the Hilton Head Symphony and the Coastal Discovery Museum, to name a few.

During the past 3½ years, the private sector has invested over $250 million in the revitalization of Hilton Head Island. That is a huge vote of confidence in our town.

Specific to Town Hall, with the help of increased citizen involvement, we streamlined the town’s permitting process; adopted policies to facilitate improvements to our telecommunication infrastructure; and drafted an updated Land Management Ordinance which is now ready for consideration by Town Council.

We worked with new owners of the Shelter Cover Mall to facilitate its redevelopment.

We supported the dredging of Harbour Town Marina and Braddock Cove.  

We formed a partnership with USCB to bring it back to the island, which will create synergies with our hospitality industry and increase educational opportunities for young and old.

We created the Economic Development Corporation.

The Hilton Head Island “renaissance”, has seen a surge in commercial and residential building permits, increased business licenses and an increase in revenues from the hospitality and accommodations taxes primarily paid by our visitors that fund maintenance of our beaches, pathways and infrastructure and support nonprofit organizations that provide opportunities to enjoy arts and culture.

We built new pathways, set aside land for parks and green space, and improved our roads and intersections.

We maintained our unwavering support for our public safety departments and the protection of our natural resources.

We continue to enjoy the highest bond rating of any municipality in South Carolina.  

We have the greatest resident volunteer population of any town I know.

For all this, we have reason to be confident in our future. But we must not be complacent. There are opportunities before us, and there is much to be done.  

Looking ahead, we must:

  • Pursue completion of a USCB campus;
  • Get on with improvements in Coligny;
  • Improve recreational facilities and the renovation and expansion of the Island Recreation Center;
  • Decide the future of the Chaplin Linear Park;
  • Find ways to address the oversupply of neglected office buildings and abandoned or struggling condominiums that are resistant to redevelopment;
  • Work with our native island community on land use and the future of Mitchelville;
  • And determine the best path forward to maintain a vibrant and successful arts community and showcase our historical and cultural heritage.

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Drew Laughlin is mayor of the town of Hilton Head Island.