A sign on Squire Pope Road, not far from the intersection with U.S. 278, marks the beginning of the historic area known as the Stoney neighborhood. AMOS HUMME

The Town of Hilton Head Island and state officials are working together to help one of the island’s most historic neighborhoods survive, thrive and protect itself against further splintering of the community.

The Stoney neighborhood stands to be most impacted by the state’s proposed road improvements to U.S. 278 and the island bridge roadways. At its Feb. 15 meeting, the council approved the creation of an economic development corporation to help protect the residents’ interests.

Officials said the move will help foster and promote economic growth within Stoney. Town Manager Marc Orlando was authorized to begin the process of forming the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that will focus on promotion of cultural resources and protection of cultural assets, neighborhood sustainability, quality of life enhancements and entrepreneurialism. It will also address business attraction, expansion and retention; land planning and development assistance; and providing financial opportunities to Stoney residents.

The move is the town’s latest step in helping to rebuild trust with and show respect to residents of Gullah neighborhoods. The town created a design studio in late 2021 specifically to help residents of historic neighborhoods more easily interact with town staff to make developmental changes to their property.

Mayor John McCann said the move toward the EDC is a clear statement of how important Stoney and its residents are to the past, present and future of the town.

“The Stoney community is the first historic Gullah neighborhood that visitors and residents travel through when they arrive on the island,” McCann said. “It is vitally important that we work with the residents and businesses in this area to sustain Stoney as a vibrant community.”

Town Council unanimously approved the resolution, saying the plan will give the neighborhood the necessary network and resources to redevelop and maximize the opportunities to spotlight the history and importance of Stoney in the fabric of the island.

Ward 1 representative Alex Brown said he is proud of the council’s clear dedication to helping Stoney excel for generations to come.

“Creating this economic development corporation signals a commitment to action,” Brown said. “This corporation is a step in the right direction because we can really help the community grow and thrive. I’m really excited about it.”

Orlando specifically discussed the upcoming U.S. 278 project as a signal of the urgency to help Stoney residents address the repercussions of the plan.

“The Stoney community is being impacted by road improvements that the S.C. Department of Transportation is proposing for the bridges to the island and along William Hilton Parkway. We want to address these impacts and help preserve the community through thoughtful community planning and an influx of economic and cultural activities,” Orlando said. “In our Strategic Action Plan, Town Council proposed the economic development corporation as a way to bring together resources and residents and achieve prosperity for the Stoney community.”

Town staff will go through the application process for nonprofit status with the state Secretary of State’s charities division. Once accepted, the Historic Stoney Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation will exist as a separate legal entity operating under state laws.

Multiple council members spoke to the need to open multiple avenues to attract funding for future Stoney projects and necessary monies to seed the initial efforts of the EDC.

State Sen. Tom Davis wants to help address the initial funding of the nonprofit. He has asked state senate officials for a one-time appropriation of $5 million in the state’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget to pay operating costs for the first year of the Stoney EDC.

In a March 14 email to State Budget Director Mike Shealy and budget analyst Quentin Hawkins, Davis said Stoney has “disproportionately borne the negative aspects of the island’s growth.”

“If immediate steps are not taken to protect and promote the island’s historic African American heritage, then that community will continue to degrade as it is forced to inequitably bear the negatives consequences of economic growth,” Davis said. “This dynamic has already created tension on the island, and such would be substantially alleviated if the state provided initial one-time funding of $5 million for the EDC; after that, the town, Beaufort County, and/or the local community would assume the EDC’s ongoing financial burden.”

The allocation would cover initial start-up costs such as salaries, payroll taxes, benefits and office operating expenses. A proposed first-year budget for the EDC includes $2.5 million directed toward land acquisition and public infrastructure improvements and $1 million to fund grants, incentives and loans for small business development, retention and investment.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. timwood@blufftonsun.com.