By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The annual meetings for both the Seabrook Island Club and the Seabrook Island Property Owners’ Association were scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The early start deterred no one from attending the Feb. 13 gathering. There was no place to park by 8:50 a.m. and only floor space to sit on by 9 a.m., despite the spacious accommodations at the SIC club house.
Every seat was occupied and every inch of wall space was lined with residents, anxious to hear the results of accompanying elections and financial reports, which hadn’t always been awesome.
Mayor Ron Ciancio spoke with The Island Connection about Seabrook’s sometimes checkered bouts with success of long ago. Seabrook based developer Robert Russell fell on hard times in 1989.
Two years later, foreclosure proceedings left residents without the amenities which added so much to Seabrook’s allure.
Speaking metaphorically, the fields were all fallow and the beasts were all feral seems an apt description of the mayor’s reaction to memories of dandelions sprouting across Seabrook’s untended golf courses.
The angst such conditions generated only increased as rumors began to circulate of Japanese investors (or country singer Kenny Rogers) who planned to seize control of everything residents held dear.
Twelve core residents were having none of it and drafted a business plan to purchase the foreclosed assets. Their “more the merrier” idea required a minimum of 500 participants and the “On Board by April” campaign was launched. The plan succeeded, too. The exercise in social activism produced a package of cash and loans which satisfied lenders. Frozen resources were secured and Seabrook began a phoenix-like ascent, paving the way to the more encouraging financial reports of the present.
“Visitors are our future and we have to support this demand,” said SIC President Bill Greubel, who kicked off the event with an informative presentation more entertaining than a standup comedian.
The club had beaten its budget for the fifth consecutive year and dues would be increased by a manageable 1% increase despite economic headwinds.
“1,784 members helps [defray increases]” said Greubel with a note of pride in the number of residents who joined the club since earlier times.
The report from Joe Salvo, Broker in Charge with Seabrook Island Real Estate, was equally good. The volume of sales was up for the sixth straight year and 2016 is ahead of the same period last year, he boasted good naturedly. The average price at closing is also up. The change in price from $417,000 to $484,000 represents a 16 percent increase residents could take to the bank, he intimated, assuring attendees about the wisdom of Seabrook as their choice.
“Seabrook Island is much more of a community” said Salvo, parroting the comments of a visitor from neighboring Kiawah Island. A recent Seabrook buyer echoed the sentiment claiming “Kiawah amenities are too complicated,” said Salvo, quoting his customer.
Outgoing members of the SIC were thanked, incoming members were announced and welcomed before soliciting questions from the audience.
Both questions involved the “Island One” program instituted as another facet of efforts to save the club and amenities for residents. “Grandfather clauses” aside, most residents are members of SIC and new residents are required to select from an array of membership types.
Greubel informed resident Dave Glover membership was part of the amenities plan and the requirement would stay in place. He also informed resident Michael Lehane SCI surcharges were permanent and any surplus would be put in a reserve fund. The meeting would end ahead of schedule, allowing time for a return to a lavish breakfast buffet. Seabrook deserves credit for putting the “continent” in continental breakfast.
Tables arranged in front windows with panoramic ocean views stretched across county lines. There was juice and coffee and fruit and muffins and those powdered cinnamon-sugar coated cake donettes, which just have to be bad for you.
Everybody knows eating them is wrong but there were fewer donettes left than anything else when the time arrived for SIPOA’s meeting.
SIPOA President Chuck Fox began the meeting with the announcement polling for new board members would close in 5, 4… 1.
“This is the 29th annual meeting of SIPOA,” he said. Keeping with long recognized, applauded and welcomed to the Seabrook family. Dennis Nagy, SIPOA Secretary, took the reins to dispense with some formalities.
“There are 2,553 possible votes and SIPOA received 1,371, 93 votes more than the required minimum for a quorum,” he said. The fact was significant since less than a quorum would have meant the cost and trouble of redefining minimums and repeating the balloting process.
SIPOA financials were as positive as their SIC counterparts. The organization earned $400,000 more than budgeted and spent $90,000 less. Fox would later remind members such surpluses are significant to the reserve fund for projects like “The Cut.” The project to re-channel the Kiawah River and protect Seabrook residents from erosion, for example, cost SIPOA plenty. It would need to be done again in the distant future. Saving now would mean lower assessments later. The project is just one of a raft of high ticket undertakings.
Election results were announced and came with a bit of a surprise. Seabrook resident Phil Squire had won election in his third attempt to win a spot with SIPOA. It was the first time in nearly ten years a non-club member had been elected to the board and the first time residents had elected anyone who wasn’t endorsed by the SIPOA nominating committee. Squire placed third out of 7 candidates with 590 votes.
“I am very pleased to be elected to the SIPOA board of directors. I have heard from a great many owners who are concerned about declining property values and the overall direction of the island. I look forward to working collaboratively with the other 11 board members in addressing [owner’s] legitimate concerns,” he would later tell The Island Connection.
Chuck Fox would wrap up the business portion of the meeting with an overview of remaining projects on SIPOA’s plate. He then thanked departing board members, welcomed new members and opened the floor to questions. One hundred percent agreement is hard to achieve but in classic “all who step forward will be heard” fashion, ten residents got a straight up response from their elected representatives. The meetings had been scheduled for a collective three hours but even after the question and answer period, the meetings ended in around two.
Fox adjourned the meeting with a piece of sage advice to travelers; “tell the pilot to keep the shiny side up.”
Seabrook Island Club Report
By Caleb Elledge, General Manager
“It’s a blessing to be able to deliver good news year after year and this is just what you will hear today. The Club’s financial position continues to strengthen, enabling our thinking and actions to be more progressive in addressing the growing needs and demands of our members and guests.
It’s a far cry from not too many years ago when our maintenance budget consisted of a new case of duct tape and a hammer. Or, when our office staff had to reuse staples.
“Success breeds success and our positive momentum allows us to pursue ways to improve the club experience and react to the continually evolving needs of our members and guests. Three of these projects we are particularly excited about and I’d like to mention today. To provide cover from the sun, some degree of protection from rain and to eliminate the use of umbrellas (which are expensive to maintain and pose a safety risk) we will add a shade structure, similar in style to the Beach Club shade structure we installed last year, to the open deck of the Pelican Nest.
“Also at the Beach Club we will relocate the Cap’n Sams grill to inside the pool area with improved equipment. This season a pool-side grill will serve as a quick and easy dining option to pool patrons, while alleviating a degree of pressure from the Pelican’s Nest.
“As you may know we partnered with Rees Jones, Inc. to complete a master plan of our golf courses and practice facilities to ensure that changes and improvements are carried out in the most efficient manner possible and consistent with the trends in the golf world and on Seabrook. I am pleased that we will take the first step in executing our master plan this summer with the renovation of our driving range tee.
The driving range experience is no longer a side item in the golf experience, but a key ingredient in cultivating new players and retaining existing. “Range rats”, as they are often called, are essential to growing the game in times of strong competition for our members’ and guests’ recreational dollar and time. Our range is too small for a 36 hole facility with our level golf traffic and this project will increase the tee area by 14,000 square feet, or 35%. We will also install mats along the back of the range tee to allow the tee days of “rest” and promote healthier turf and improved conditions.
“Contrary to anecdotal reports that regurgitate aging golf statistics from ten years ago, golf is growing. According to the PGA of America 38 of 49 states (Alaska did not participate in the survey) experienced 3.4% year-over-year growth in rounds played and 2.7% growth in golf revenues.
Seabrook Island Club experienced 2.1% increase in rounds and 3.1% growth in golf revenues. It should also be noted that lesson revenue is up 28% at Seabrook Island Club, a testament to Brian Thelan and our golf professional staff and to the number of golfers working to improve their games and to new players being introduced to the game. Lesson revenue, in my opinion, is truly the litmus test of growth.
“So, while golf may not be in the same boom times as it was in the 90’s, golf is growing, both locally and nationally. While gloom and doom articles and blogs litter our minds with notions that golf is a dying pasttime, perhaps we can take a bit of relief from the multitude of facts that speak to the contrary and to the reality in which we live. Golf is looking up on Seabrook and it is time for the naysayers to stop looking back.
“While a new amenity to the Club’s portfolio, our new pickleball courts provide a great opportunity to grow racquet sports on Seabrook. Not only are we introducing a new recreational product for our members and guests, but we are providing an enhanced instructional environment for our young tennis stars with the courts being dually used for QuickStart Tennis, a USTA developed growth initiative geared towards kids. This is also a sign to our visitors, who we hope will one day become Seabrook Island property owners and members, that we are always willing to evolve and pursue new opportunities, even if not within our comfort zone. Additionally, I would like to point out that we built the pickleball courts in record time! According to a statistic that I just made up, it typically takes close to three years to build two pickleball courts, but here…only eleven months!
Seabrook Island is a wonderful place, there is no doubt about this. It is a wonderful place to live, work and visit. While all three of these groups must work in harmony (members/property owners, employees and visitors) it is always important to remember where the vast majority of our members and property come from…Cleveland. It’s important to remember how your Seabrook experience began. Most of you, I bet, began as visitors…vacationing, attending a wedding or perhaps even a conference. From there you evolve to a repeat visitor, then to a part-time owner and then to a full time owner and resident. While property owners are incredibly important for the obvious reasons, let us not forget the importance of our visitors and how easily we can turn them away or establish a permanent connection. They are the future and they are the ones who determine the value of the Island. As Joe can attest to, property values are only as strong as demand and it is all of our jobs to do what we can to promote and encourage demand. A strong club and friendly environment are the keys to growing demand….that and an incredible Broker-In-Charge! So I ask that we all work together to promote this demand and remember the importance of our Seabrook Island visitor.
Thanks to all our members, for your ongoing support in helping us have a great 2015 and what I’m sure will be a fantastic 2016!