It has been a wild and too often demoralizing ride for Tai Scott to get a business open on his property on 15 Marshland Road, but his journey has a happy ending.
After years of fighting the Town of Hilton Head Island to place a food truck and flea market on his land, Scott has opened his Beautiful Island Square property and had a grand opening celebration for the food portion of the project on April 30.
“It’s surreal, honestly. There were times when I just thought I was banging my head against the wall and this made no sense,” Scott said. “I’m ready to focus on the positives here, but I really hope we learn some lessons from how this went down.”
Scott said there will be an anchor food truck commissary and he hopes to have a steady flow of pop-up vendors filled with businesses owned by Gullah Geechee natives. He also hopes to have a regular fruit and produce vendor to launch a farmers market component to the square.
“The possibilities here are endless. It feels good to be back in that mindset,” Scott said.
Scott said that new town manager Marc Orlando has been a driving force in turning around the momentum for native business owners.
“When he came on, he made time, he actually came over to the site and was brainstorming with us on how to make it happen,” Scott said. “Before that, anytime there was town engagement, it was always something negative. (Now) there is a willingness to listen and that is a huge change and the biggest new factor has been Marc and his staff.”
Scott also said the town’s new Historic Neighborhoods Permitting and Design Studio has also been a big step in opening native’s eyes that a new wave of cooperation may actually be something the locals can believe in and trust.
“I reached out to Sheryse Dubose there and the attitude of ‘Just come in, we will help with every step of the process,’ that truly matters,” Scott said. “There are a lot of things, a lot of relationships that still need to be ironed out, but there are roots of trust being planted here.”
Scott has been a resource for many natives looking to bring new mobile homes onto their property through the years. He said that while the studio is a great new resource there, he is seeing some delays that were not there in the past.
“We have gone from one to two weeks for approvals to now one to two months and I want to work to evolve that,” Scott said. “I think what is happening is there may be a lack of communication between departments, some extra steps that were not there before. This idea of a one-stop help resource with the studio is great, but when you try to coordinate a lot of parts of a bureaucracy, it can cause some kinks in the process before it gets better. We’re going to see it through.”
Scott should list “see it through” as a top skill on his resume. He has stuck to his plan for seven years. He thought he had all the boxes checked to get his business launched in 2015, but hit roadblock after roadblock with town officials.
“It was clear they were trying to block any whiff of a food truck approval coming to the island back then,” Scott said. “It got to the point where they actually took my business licenses away three years ago. I just saw that memory on my Facebook timeline. It just reminds me on how hard we’ve fought. So many folks told me to give up, so many natives just felt the decks were stacked and it was never going to change.”
Scott said the hardest moment was when his then 8-year-old son Jalil asked a heartbreaking question.
“He said, ‘Daddy, is this because we’re Black?’ I mean, it’s the last thing I wanted to think, it’s the last thing I wanted to admit to my son,” he said. “He’s 15 now, and he’s seeing what perseverance means, where it gets you. That’s what I want to focus on.”
Back in 2015, Scott had Gullah Geechee Catering signed up as the square’s core food provider and well-known native produce vendor Wesley Campbell lined up as the base for a farmers market. Both have since launched businesses elsewhere.
So, Scott turned to a trio of food experts that have launched Slice and Dice Jamaican. The chefs will rent the commissary and serve a variety of jerk chicken, pork, rice and yellow-tail snapper.
“That’s just part of their menu. It’s exciting to see the dishes they keep cooking up,” he said.
Scott sees Beautiful Island Square also as a resource and launching point for native entrepreneurs.
“I want to be that starting point to help them get off the ground and build their business. We want them to use us an avenue to launch and grow their idea,” Scott said. “We want visitors to talk with our locals, buy our jewelry, our sweetgrass baskets. The possibilities to use us for pop-up shops is limitless.”
He also wants the project to be a lightning rod for change.
“The town has an island-wide beautification fund and there needs to be more of that allocated to the native island community. The two main native communities, Stoney and Chaplin, are speedways. We need landscaped medians there to slow down the traffic and to promote safety.”
Scott also brought up the landmark 1995 Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team study that showed the town has failed to meet its obligation to taxpayers partly because it did not provide paved streets for all residents, instead focusing more on the needs of the gated community owners.
Moreover, the report said that Ward 1 residents specifically were being prohibited from developing their land to its fullest potential.
“We have not made enough progress on R/UDAT, that’s clear. We are still facing too many obstacles that that report said were obligations, not options, for the town to address and fix,” Scott said. “Our lands should be paved, but in doing that, we should not lose any part of our land density. There is so much work to be done.”
He said that he hopes to use this positive momentum to keep pushing for Gullah inclusion as new projects evolve around the island. He said the expansion at Hilton Head Island Airport is a big next step.
“I want to work with the town and the airport officials to guarantee that as we triple the size of the airport, a percentage of the vendor expansion spots they open up go to Gullah businesses,” he said. “Visitors getting off the plane need to be exposed to Gullah culture as part of the bigger picture of where they’re visiting. We want to put a ‘green map’ in their hands that highlights a Gullah Business Tour.”
For now, though, he’s focusing on Beautiful Island Square and celebrating that progress.
To inquire about vendor or food truck space at Beautiful Island Square, call Scott at 843-290-0868.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.