The City of Beaufort will buy the Commercial Park near U.S. 21 for $1.85 million as part of a plan to spur economic development.
During a special meeting Tuesday night, city council unanimously approved the plan to purchase 209 acres -- 167 of which are buildable -- from S.C. Bank & Trust.
Subsequent votes are planned for later this month to annex and rezone the property.
The city has 60 days to finalize the purchase, including completing environmental studies and arranging financing. There is $1.033 million in an account for land acquisition that will be used toward the purchase, city officials said.
In explaining his vote, councilman Mike Sutton pointed to the millions of dollars the city has spent improving neighborhoods and preserving open land.
"To me, there has to be this balance," he said. "Preservation -- and at the same time you have to do things that generate a longer future."
Mayor Billy Keyserling proposed the idea, which includes marketing and job-training elements, two weeks ago.
Several prospective businesses are interested in the park, he said, which is part of the reason he asked for the special meeting to approve the purchase. He declined to name those businesses Tuesday night.
Resident John Carroll was the sole dissenter among audience members who spoke. He questioned what the rush was and whether the city could negotiate a better price. He also suggested the money be spent in other ways.
"Why don't you buy something that has a bigger effect on Beaufort city, like affordable housing?" he asked. "Or land for affordable housing?"
Keyserling responded by saying the $1.85-million price was the best the city could negotiate, calling it an "OK deal."
The bank bought the land for $2 million at auction last fall when the Lowcountry Economic Network folded after it could no longer afford the mortgage. The network asked Beaufort County to buy the land last year, but county council decided against it.
"What they chose to do was kill the network and kill the park," Keyserling said of the county. "And with that I came to council and said, 'I'm a native and I have this passionate sense that now's the time and we have to do what we need.'"
As for how the money is being spent, Keyserling said he'd rather see city money create job opportunities.
"As a native, rather than create low cost housing that is affordable, I would rather have families that can afford to buy homes," he said.
Councilman Mike McFee acknowledged some of the concerns with buying the park, including what happens if industry and business don't move in and development flounders.
"It is not without risk, but it is worth the effort to go forward," McFee said.