The Beaufort Redevelopment Commission is considering submissions from five companies about redeveloping the downtown marina parking lot, but the panel has declined to reveal details.
City officials say the talks are part of possible contractual negotiations, which do not have to be revealed to the public. The five companies have submitted letters of interest in the project, they said.
"We really are in the discussion stages at this point," commission chairman Jon Verity said. "We don't really have any plans. We want someone to partner with. We're certainly leading up to contractual negotiations, and we want to be able to find out which person might be most eligible."
This spring, the commission solicited letters of interest from developers on how the city-owned parking lot could be redeveloped. City Council approved plans last fall for a watersports center there, adding it to the Civic Master Plan after much discussion. Verity has said a final decision on what would go on the lot would hinge on developers' proposals.
Developers were asked to submit letters outlining their experience and qualifications, examples of previous projects and a "general description of interest and vision for a project on the site."
Conceptual designs and financial information were not requested. No contract proposals nor bids were solicited with the letters of interest.
City attorney Bill Harvey III responded to a request for the documents from The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet by saying the letters are "incidental to proposed contractual arrangements" and will not be released.
State law allows governmental bodies to keep documents related to contract negotiations out of the public eye until they are signed.
Verity has said meetings are scheduled with three of the respondents for Thursday, July 15 and July 16.
"I don't think that's in anybody's best interest," he said when asked why the responses are not public. "I think we have to decide who we think we can work with." Mayor Billy Keyserling, who has not seen the responses, agreed with Verity.
"The problem is, if everyone knows who the competition is and who the teams are they're putting together, then it's not a fair competition," he said.
A public process that would allow residents to comment would begin when a recommendation is made, according to Keyserling.
Councilman George O'Kelley Jr. said private companies often don't want their business proposals made public.
"I don't know that we would be able to tell you anything until the private company would say they want something released," he said.
O'Kelley, who has opposed building on the marina site, added, "I'm sure they're going to give us a report soon. I hope."
Verity said the process would eventually be opened to the public. Public hearings and meetings would be needed before anything could be built on the land.
"I think we're absolutely committed to getting people's opinions of what could go on that site," he said. "We want to provide people with an opportunity to provide comments."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.