The town of Port Royal stands at the brink of one of the grandest opportunities in its long history.
It sure would be nice to know what's going on.
The grand opportunity is the proposed sale of an abandoned state port site to the private sector. A buyer has come forward and a deal has been struck. About 50 acres along the waterfront that is now mostly fenced off would be opened up and merge into what is already a lovely small town. The site would come alive with residential and commercial development and public gathering places and more access to the waterfront.
It is an opportunity of regional and statewide importance.
It involves land owned by a public entity -- the S.C. State Ports Authority. It involves town planning and development agreements that are carefully watched by the public. And the town has committed to borrowing $4.5 million to help get the development going.
But as deadlines for the purchase have come and gone with no closing, the public has too often been left to guess what is going on. No good excuse exists for the seller or the buyer to leave the public in the dark on basic details: Was the closing deadline met? Why not? Was an extension granted? At what cost to the buyer? How long is the extension? How many extensions are allowable? What role is the town playing, if any, in negotiations between the buyer and seller?
It has been like pulling teeth to get these answers as four extensions have been granted on a $17 million deal that was initially to close in May. That information should flow freely. Public bodies have an obligation to the people who live and pay taxes in Port Royal to keep them fully informed as a matter of course.
Finally this week a spokesman for the Ports Authority said a date certain has been set that the deal must close. That date is Sept. 12, which would be 13 months after the authority agreed in principle to the deal.
Everyone should understand that patience is needed with so much money at stake, especially in today's marketplace. We appreciate that more than $17 million is involved for the buyer because it will cost a lot more than that to start development. We appreciate the town's efforts in priming the pump by creating a special taxing district with the cooperation of other local governments and in coming to terms with development concepts and details.
The port has been idle for many years, and this is the third attempt by a developer since 2006 to buy the property.
Patience we understand, but the secrecy we don't understand.
The deal deserves the benefit of every doubt. But the best way to eliminate doubt is to be totally forthcoming.