Hilton Head Hotels Upgrade, Offering More to Travelers

By:Bob Gillespie

Date:3/10/2015

You did not see as many bulldozers and cranes outside Sea Pines Resort as inside over the past year, but the “renaissance” that has been transforming Hilton Head Island’s largest resort from a laid-back, stuck-in-the-1980s enclave into a world-class golf and beach resort has not been confined to Harbour Town Golf Links, the Plantation Club and other Sea Pines properties.

Indeed, RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot and Sea Pines officials willingly grant that infrastructure improvements off-property should play as big a role in keeping tournament sponsors Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing happy as anything Sea Pines has done.

Take hotels: The boutique Inn at Harbour Town in Sea Pines Resort undertook upgrades of its 60 rooms while adding a new pool. That’s great for those who get in, but with RBC, Boeing and other sponsors wanting to bring in large numbers of clients for Heritage Week, more hotel rooms were needed.

Enter Sonesta Resort, a former Crowne Plaza hotel, which underwent a renovation costing an estimated $30 million. The Westin Resort spent about $40 million on upgrades, and the Omni has made some early tweaks. All three hotels offer what Sea Pines doesn’t have: beachfront access.

“Sonesta did a wonderful job, and that’s a great ‘flag’ for Hilton Head,” said Sea Pines vice president for sports and operations Cary Corbitt. “The Westin spent many millions on restoration — decks, pools, rooms, a redone lobby — and the Omni made improvements with more to come.

“I think the (Hilton Head) community feels confident about the future, and now we look to improve our assets here, make them better for all to enjoy.”

Also, a new Shelter Cove Town Center near Palmetto Dunes Resort is taking shape, driven by Kroger’s purchase of The Mall at Shelter Cove, an $80 million project according to Sea Pines president Steve Birdwell. “They’ll have new retail, a lifestyle center, a town park on the marsh front, and apartments being built,” he said. “Part of it is already built and the rest is set to open this summer.”

Birdwell called 2015 and beyond “an exciting time for not just Sea Pines but the island as a whole. It’s definitely the renewal of Hilton Head. We’re pleased the oceanfront hotels have invested in their facilities.”

And the upgrades likely won’t stop. Birdwell said Sea Pines is looking at “other facilities we plan to improve in the future.” Those include the resort’s tennis and racquet club, which currently operates out of a temporary facility; plans to redevelop the site of a tennis stadium no longer in use; a new swimming pool; and long-range plans to replace dated shops in the Harbour Town area.

But “the big thing is, we need more hotel rooms,” Birdwell said, and that could result in Sea Pines building a 100-room hotel on property near its Plantation Club in the future. “We have the right to build a new hotel (there); we’re studying if that’s the right location to put it.”

While Sea Pines traditionally houses PGA Tour players and spectators in villas, condos and rental homes, Birdwell said an option is to trade condo rights for additional hotel rooms. “We have 2,000 condos, townhouses and villas — plenty of those,” he said. “Those work well for families, but corporate groups making shorter stays want full service (hotels) with restaurants and room service.” If Sea Pines does build its 100-room hotel, more rooms will still be needed.

Bottom line: The days of bulldozers and cranes on Hilton Head should continue for the foreseeable future. And that’s good news for everyone.

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