Developer: City's commerce park marketing should benefit all

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 26, 2012 

Developer Steve Tully, who owns a 150-acre commerce park in Lobeco, doesn't want his taxes to pay for marketing a competing park.

"I don't need me funding it with my tax dollars and them competing against me," said Tully, reacting to Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling's proposal that the city buy Beaufort Commerce Park.

Yemassee commercial park owner Charlie Marshall expressed concerns similar to Tully's last year, when Beaufort County considered buying the 167-acre commerce park off U.S. 21 in northern Beaufort County.

"If they want to do true economic development, they need to go ahead and buy the industrial park but then hire a marketing group that markets all industrial properties in Beaufort County -- not just theirs," Tully said.

"It doesn't matter if it's located across from (Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort), or four miles from the air station like I am, or 16 miles like the one in Yemassee."

Last year, the Lowcountry Economic Network -- the county's economic-development partner -- defaulted on its mortgage on the commerce park and asked Beaufort County Council to purchase it. After months of debate, the council declined; the network declared bankruptcy and S.C. Bank & Trust bought the property at auction for $2 million.

The city has about $1 million in a land-acquisition fund that could be used for the purchase, and Keyserling said he's talked with bank officials about buying it for less than they paid.

Announcement of the amount and a first vote on the purchase is expected at Tuesday's Beaufort City Council meeting.

Tully said having three parks will appeal to different industries. The commerce park is more shovel-ready and has utilities. His park is good for heavier industry. The Yemassee park is near the railroad.

He wants the Lowcountry Economic Alliance -- which is being revamped to become the county's economic development arm -- to tell prospective companies about all available properties. Under Keyserling's plan, the alliance would be the marketing agent to draw in businesses.

Upon learning of Tully's concerns, Keyserling agreed that public money should not be used to give the commerce park an edge over the other ones.

"My focus is going to be on building the city, but if someone comes and they want a property in the country, or not around people, then why wouldn't I want that?" Keyserling said.

Executive director Kim Statler said the alliance looks at all available properties, regardless of whether the owners are involved with the organization and pay the $10,000 needed to have a seat on the board. The city of Beaufort is a member.

Statler said she would "absolutely not" steer prospective businesses only to alliance members' properties.

"I can see why people worry about that," she said. "I get that. But at the same time, my success as an organization is defined by our ability to translate prospects into real deals. If I behaved like that, how could I ever be successful?"

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.

Related content:

Beaufort mayor proposes city buy Commerce Park, March 20, 2012

Beaufort officials interested in exploring Commerce Park plan

Banks buy Beaufort Commerce Park for $2 million, Dec. 7, 2011

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