Failure of Port of Port Royal sale brings mixed reaction

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Failure of Port of Port Royal sale brings mixed reaction


By JULIANN VACHON
jvachon@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8184
Published Wednesday, January 19, 2011   |  688 Words  |  

News that the Port of Port Royal is going back on the market -- a pending $16.75 million sale of the 51-acre, state-owned property called off -- left many officials and business owners shocked, disappointed and anxious.

"It's frustrating," said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has tried to help the state sell the property. "Everybody wants to see the property redeveloped both for the tax base and to inject a little enthusiasm into Port Royal in the midst of this recession."

The Ports Authority has contacted commercial real estate firm NAI AVANT about marketing the property once more and plans to approach potential buyers who have shown interest in the past, Ports Authority board chairman Bill Stern said.

Nancy Harris Vista, a business owner and chairwoman of the Old Village Association, said she has heard mixed reaction from business owners, some expressing disappointment and others who say they believe it happened for a good reason, Vista said.

"We're frustrated, but at the same time we have to make things happen with or without that port," she said.

The sale officially fell through Tuesday after Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development of Charleston did not make a $50,000, non-refundable deposit, Ports Authority officials said.

Attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to contact Gramling Brothers representatives were unsuccessful.

Town Manager Van Willis said title issues regarding several smaller pieces of property within the 51 acres influenced the Gramling Brother's decision to step away from the deal.

The company also was concerned about permitting for a marina that would have included more than 200 slips, Willis said.The deal would have required about 90 percent of the spaces be reserved for residents of the port redevelopment area, Willis said.

The Gramling Brothers had requested more time to work through some of those issues, Stern said.

"They had a choice -- they could either terminate the contract or put up another $50,000," Stern said. "We chose not to extend (the contract) anymore."

The Gramling Brothers signed a contract in May that split the sale into two, $8.375-million phases.

But then Gov. Mark Sanford called the deal unfair because other potential buyers thought they had to bid on the entire property.

The governor and some in the community also were concerned about the Gramling Brothers' preliminary plans for the property, which eliminated a 10-acre, passive waterfront park at the end of London Avenue. Gramling Brothers wanted to build homes there instead.

Stern said he didn't think issues regarding open space weighed on Gramling Brother's decision to terminate the deal.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Ports Authority will market the property as one, 51-acre tract but will continue "entertaining offers" to split the sale into phases or use other creative financing, Stern said.

The port property has dropped in value since Sanford first ordered it closed and sold in 2004.

At least one other deal -- with a group of investors in 2008 -- also fell through.

The ports authority has not decided on a new listing price or whether an updated appraisal is needed, Stern said.Davis, a real estate attorney, said he thinks the broker needs to have a "much more aggressive local presence in Port Royal" than it has had in the past.

The waiting game continues for the Port Royal community, which had an end in sight to a six-year effort to sell theproperty along Battery Creek.

Mayor Sam Murray said he's holding out hope that the Gramling Brothers and the Ports Authority can still work something out.

"If not, it's probably going to be a long time before we get another buyer," Murray said.

Carol Poore, a Paris Avenue business owner and real estate broker, said although it's frustrating, she frequently sees deals fall apart at the table.

"We only have one chance to get it right," Poore said. "I'm willing to wait if that's what it takes."