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HILTON HEAD OFFICIALS FOCUS ON PEDESTRIAN SAFETY AHEAD OF NEW PARK OPENING

New life was breathed into Hilton Head Island’s midsection thanks to Shelter Cove Towne Centre, a resort village-style retail center fashioned from a nearly abandoned suburban-style mall. With apartments overlooking Broad Creek, a waterfront park, restaurants, boutiques and walking paths, Shelter Cove has become a popular gathering place with an energetic atmosphere. 

Boosters are hoping to replicate that atmosphere later this year thanks to the new Lowcountry Celebration Park in the Coligny area. With nearby Heritage Plaza almost empty and some adjacent buildings in disrepair, the area needed attention. 

“Coligny has always been a relaxed, funky resort village district,” said landscape architect Mark Baker, president of Wood + Partners Inc., which designed Shelter Cove Town Centre, the new park and the renovated commercial area in front of it. “The district needs leverage to stimulate revitalization.”  

Shelter Cove’s and the Coligny area’s revitalizations are a needed jolt. 

park2That leverage is the 15.8-acre, $13 million public green space that will include The Sandbox: An Interactive Children’s Museum, an adventure playground and an entertainment stage. It sits across from a new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel at a revamped Heritage Plaza, both being developed by Southeastern Development Associates, which also developed Shelter Cove Towne Centre. 

The park is on land the town has owned for years and is in a tax increment financing district (TIF), said Chris Darnell, the town’s urban designer. TIF is a way for municipalities to use tax revenues from a designated area to fund public-owned projects, such as parks and roads, in hopes of stimulating private investments. 

Shelter Cove’s and the Coligny area’s revitalizations are a needed jolt for a town that has seen many of its commercial areas decline due to age and competition from Bluffton. 

“When you add a civic open space, that is like a pebble in the pond,” Baker said. “It creates ripple effects that energize the commercial and residential properties surrounding it.” 

But success heightens the need for better traffic flow and safety in what are being touted as pedestrian-friendly areas. Town officials say they have made improvements to move traffic around the new park at Coligny and to enhance safety. 

“The paths will be wider,” Darnell said. “There is an existing path on Tanglewood being redone and new paths on South Forest Beach. All of the paths in and around the park are new.” 

The town is adding 100 parking spaces around the park, including parallel spots on Nassau Street — formerly a drive-thru for the Circle Center strip mall parking lot. Nassau Street has been widened and walking paths added to improve traffic flow between Pope and Deallyon avenues, which should also make the area safer for pedestrians. 

“Because Nassau has been formalized, traffic will move easier,” Darnell said.

Darrin Shoemaker, Hilton Head’s traffic and transportation engineer, said the town has made other improvements near the park, like a new traffic signal at Pope and Lagoon roads and crosswalk lights controlled by pedestrians. The project also straightens the crosswalk where Cordillo Parkway crosses Pope and gives more room for people waiting to cross to stand, Shoemaker said. A pedestrian-activated traffic light will be added on South Forest Beach, about 50 yards from the Coligny traffic circle. 

“Improvements throughout the corridor have been significant,” Shoemaker said.

Larry LaBanc, president of the Forest Beach Owners Association, likes the idea of a neighborhood park but remains concerned about the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in an area that has 3,160 households and a speed limit of 35 mph, he said.

Town officials have “initiated a dialogue” with the state about lowering the speed limits, and “the state has indicated a willingness to study it in the near future,” Shoemaker said.

In addition to safety concerns, resident and community activist Patsy Brison said parking could remain an issue during big events. People who live behind the park may also have to deal with increased noise, she added, though Darnell said event planners will have to follow the town’s noise ordinance. 

Some residents also want the town to revisit its Land Management Ordinance, which allowed an exemption for the taller new Marriott on Pope Avenue. The town has heard from residents concerned that the hotel will change the character of the area. 

Meanwhile, traffic concerns in the immensely popular Shelter Cove area are also being addressed, Shoemaker said. A traffic light will be added where Shelter Cove Lane intersects with William Hilton Parkway. Another light will be added on the east side of William Hilton and the acceleration lane removed. And street improvements will be made at the Palmetto Dunes intersection.