Three months after Beaufort City Council voted to buy the $1.85 million Beaufort Commerce Park, officials celebrated with a ribbon cutting Thursday but said they have not yet secured any new tenants.
Mayor Billy Keyserling called efforts to attract new businesses to the mostly-vacant park a "very long, slow process."
He said there are at least three prospects currently being courted and that the immediate focus is on local businesses.
Two "mystery shoppers," or representatives from prospective businesses, attended Thursday's event, he said.
He declined to name those businesses or provide further details.
How serious those businesses are about locating to the park is a matter of perspective, Keyserling said.
"I'm very serious about them," he said. "But you don't know. They're fishing."
Even if a prospect moves from theoretical to practical, Keyserling said there won't be immediate announcements of new park residents. For example, one of the prospects -- which Keyserling said could employ about 500 -- would need about a year to arrange financing for construction.
Keyserling publicly proposed buying the park March 20, but said officials had been exploring the option quietly for about nine months. City council voted to buy the 209-acre-park --- 167 acres of which are buildable -- from S.C. Bank and Trust on April 3. The sale closed May 31.
The city and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted this month's Business After Hours networking event Thursday with the informal ribbon cutting at Parker-Hannifin in the park. The evening included a "mini expo" by half-a-dozen businesses and manufacturers, which Chamber of Commerce executive director Blakely Williams said are appropriate examples of the chamber's message that "the Lowcountry is open for business."
Chamber Board of Directors Chair-Elect Stephen Murray said that while having the businesses at the meeting was exciting, he was saddened because they represent about half the total manufacturers in northern Beaufort County.
He said the city's purchase of the park and efforts at recruiting are positive signs that officials are serious about spurring economic development.
Jon Rembold , the 2011-12 chamber board chairman, said that now is the time to capitalize on the energy created by the park's purchase, add businesses to the facility and stop the ongoing trend of local job losses.
If new businesses can successfully be attracted to the Commerce Park, they could be the "shot in the arm" Beaufort needs, he said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.