Beaufort officials interested in exploring Commerce Park plan

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Beaufort officials interested in exploring Commerce Park plan

By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
Published Wednesday, March 21, 2012   |  666 Words  |  

City of Beaufort officials say they are receptive to a plan to use public money and programs to give private industry a push in the Beaufort Commerce Park.

Mayor Billy Keyserling proposed the plan -- which includes the city purchasing the park -- at Tuesday's City Council workshop.

"I grew up in Beaufort, S.C., and for 64 years, people who've had my job have made promises that didn't come true," he said. "And I'm not going to end my career by being another one of those people who didn't deliver, if I can help it."

Its owners have long struggled to sell parcels in the 167-acre Commerce Park off of U.S. 21. Most recently, the Lowcountry Economic Network -- Beaufort County's public-private economic development agency -- last year determined it no longer could afford the mortgage on the property. When the County Council declined to purchase the property, the network declared bankruptcy, and the property was sold at auction to S.C. Bank & Trust for $2 million.

Keyserling said his plan could succeed because of three-pronged approach that includes:

  • Land -- Keyserling said the city would not try to make a profit by selling parcels of land to businesses. He said he's had discussions with the land's owner to buy it for less than the $2 million it fetched at auction, but would not disclose that price. The city has $1.033 million set-aside for land acquisition.
  • Incentives -- The Lowcountry Economic Alliance would work with the state Department of Commerce to identify businesses with not only strong commercial prospects but also ones eligible for government or financial incentives, Keyserling said.
  • Education -- Local schools would design programs to train students for specific jobs in the industries -- health care, aeronautics, supply chain -- being courted by the alliance.
  • Initial reaction to the plan was favorable.

    Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce President Blakely Williams said it complements her organization's goals.

    "I will take this to our board, and I imagine you will have unanimous support," she said.

    Redevelopment Commission chairman Jon Verity said the plan addresses concerns he's heard from developers who want not only a place to locate, but also a ready, educated workforce.

    "This is not only the natural evolution of the planning process; this is an absolute mandatory," Verity said. "I think anything we can do to make it work will be to our benefit. I think that the right partners and people are together, and I think, from what I can see, everybody agrees this is the right time to do this."

    It might be the right time, in Verity's mind, but officials acknowledged they would not be able to turn the Commerce Park into a success for years.

    "When all this comes to fruition, and gets really going well, we might not be here, but that's OK," Councilwoman Donnie Beer said. "Our children, our grandchildren, will have a home to come home to, they'll have a job to support their families, and (they'll) continue building our city way into the future."

    Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.

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