Beaufort Commerce Park purchase moves full speed ahead; Final vote April 7


The city sent out a press release that kicked off with "Beaufort takes first steps to annex, acquire Commerce Park to boost 'City-building'".

Despite criticism, the plan to annex the failed commerce park is moving ahead — and the city believes the price, timing, and some new ideas make it worthwhile.

For those closely following this, two main new bits of information are of note:

  • 1: Price. The city is getting a below-foreclosure price of $1.85 million — the Lowcountry Economic Network owed some $2.6 million before letting the land go into foreclosure.
  • 2: Next. The "final consideration and votes" on the Commerce Park purchase and annexation are scheduled for Tuesday, April 3, at 7 p.m.

The Beaufort City Council Tuesday night unanimously voted  on first reading to annex, buy and rezone a 167-acre Commerce Park near the Marine Corps Air Station. Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling called yesterday's vote "a bold decision, a historic decision, an important decision". 

Here's more details from the release:

Current owners of the Commerce Park parcels petitioned their land to be annexed into the City limits. At the same time, City Council approved on first reading the purchase of the Commerce Park for $1.85 million – less than what the property had been appraised at last year. The contract with SCBT bank calls for the deal to close within 60 days.

The Council also approved initial reading of an ordinance to amend the Unified Development Ordinance to create an "industrial park" zoning district for the Commerce Park. The site will be used for heavy and light industrial purposes.

"This is a big first step in providing a brighter future for Beaufort, for the families of Beaufort, the children of Beaufort and the military stationed in Beaufort," Keyserling said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us before this is finalized, and we'll get a lot of questions. Our job is to provide a lot of answers and see this through.

"The time is now to go after better paying jobs for the people of northern Beaufort County," Keyserling said. "This is a patience game. It doesn't happen overnight ... We need to do everything we can to diversify the economic base."

The Commerce Park is located near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The park was most recently owned by the Lowcountry Economic Network and prior to that it was owned by a group of private investors.

Each year, Beaufort sets aside funding for land purchases and currently has $1.034 million available. Several options, to include financing, are available for the balance, and none of them require a tax increase for city residents, Keyserling said.

Part of Beaufort's comprehensive plan includes expanding the city's economic base while growing and grooming its core areas through infill development. The City Council uses the comp plan to guide its decisions.

"This is one more way we are approaching 'City-building,' by seeking ways to expand Beaufort's economic base," Beaufort City Manager Scott Dadson said. "If we want to thrive, not just survive, we must find ways to bring more and better-paying jobs to the Beaufort area. Having this Commerce Park will open a lot of opportunities for residents and for children growing up who'd like to find good jobs right here in Beaufort."

The Commerce Park has all utilities available on site. Located across U.S. Highway 21 from the Marine Corps Air Station and its soon-to-arrive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons and high-tech training center, the Commerce Park also is within an hour and 15 minutes of Boeing's new Charleston facility and 45 minutes from Gulfstream's Savannah operations.

"It's an important step for the larger community, not just Beaufort," Beaufort City Councilman Mike Sutton said of the Commerce Park annexation and purchase.

Related to the Commerce Park purchase is Beaufort's involvement in what's called the Transition Work Force Education Assistance Collaboration, an organization in its infancy that has been meeting with S.C. Department of Commerce, military personnel specialists and academia.

Likely local participants include the Beaufort County School District, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and USCB, which has brought the USC School of Engineering and Computing and the McNair Center for Aerospace to the table. Each of these organization's mission is to train future employees for jobs for which there currently aren't workers with necessary skills.

In Beaufort's three military installations, "we have a huge untapped economic development asset in the disciplined, focused and experienced Marines and sailors who, with appropriate training, could provide a workforce unlike any other," Keyserling said.

Kershaw and Sumter, SC, both own their own industrial parks, and Rock Hill and Clinton own three industrial parks each. Cheraw, Chesterfield and Orangeburg own partial stakes in commerce parks, according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

To help promote the Beaufort Commerce Park, Keyserling said area mayors are lining up to revitalize the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

The Alliance is critical because it's the only vehicle through which leads are fed by the S.C. Department of Commerce and it is the organization that is eligible to receive matching dollars for regional economic development, Keyserling said.