Beaufort Today -

Port Royal waterfront poised for redevelopment

A Port Royal Town Council member is optimistic the port property, which has remained stagnant and undeveloped for 12 years, will be sold this year, positioning the town for growth.

Councilman Tom Klein, Mayor Sam Murray and about 20 other residents attended a forum Monday with researchers from the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, Clemson University and College of Charleston who discussed what makes a successful working waterfront.

Port Royal is one of five South Carolina waterfronts the organizations researched in 2015, gathering feedback on how to maintain traditional working waterfronts while protecting and enhancing them as the population grows and the climate changes.

The town’s priorities included funding and managing its commercial shrimp docks, finding an outlet for products, preventing offshore seismic testing for oil and gas, and developing the port property.

With the port up for auction through March 1, waterfront redevelopment is now positioned to happen sooner than later.

“I’m optimistic that the port will be sold this year,” Klein said. “We’re probably the closest we’ve ever been to selling in over the last 12 years that it has sat there. But the issue is we don’t know who is buying and what will become of it.”

The 317-acre site once operated as a port, but its buyer could help revitalize the waterfront with new commercial and residential properties as outlined in a planned unit development approved in 2011.

The design principles originated in a 2006 redevelopment study by Wood and Partners and 2004’s “A New Vision for the Port” study by Design Collective, Inc.

One attendee raised concerns about the ideas being outdated and asked if the Sea Grant Consortium could hold more meetings to get public input.

Susan Lovelace of the Sea Grant Consortium said she hopes the buyer would want to get the public involved in its redevelopment plans.

Another concern was the future of the commercial shrimp docks the town maintains. The town committed to keeping them open last year, but cut the budget from $500,000 to $300,000.

Rather than a revenue generator for the town, Klein said, the docks have become more of an iconic scene for visitors.

“How can we teach the owners to untie the boats and go out? If we don’t move product, why are we putting $500,000 into it each year?” Klein said. “We probably won’t lose as much this year and we even cut the budget, but we’re keeping our operations going because it is the heritage of the town.”

Shrimper Craig Reaves said the boats have iconic value and were a showpiece for the Dockside restaurant that was destroyed by a fire in 2015. He said commercial shrimping is dying as restaurants are rarely buying from local waters.

“We’ll survive, but it will be a lot different and with a smaller fleet,” he said.

Other attendees said they hope the port buyer will help attract restaurants that would rely on local products.

“The waterfront communities are part of the local economy,” said Bill Norman, a professor in the parks, recreation and tourism management department at Clemson. “Commercial fishing creates jobs and there has to be a value in the capacity to sustain the local seafood supply.”

While the priorities shared by the public back in 2015 remain the same, the town is at a standstill until a buyer is named and settled. Klein said the town has missed out on $6.5 to $10 million in economic impact in the decade-plus the property has sat undeveloped.

To learn more about the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s research, go to www.scseagrant.org.

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