City should be more open about marina lot proposals

info@islandpacket.comJuly 15, 2013 

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Boats moored at the Beaufort Downtown Marina. The city is considering plans to redevelop the marina parking lot.

SARAH WELLIVER — null

Beaufort's Downtown Marina is not a private club, and the city must quit acting like it is.

Suggestions are afoot to change the look and economic potential of the marina parking lot on Bay Street. The city needs to tell the public, which owns the property, what those suggestions are.

Five parties responded to the city's request for letters of interest in redeveloping the marina parking lot. The Beaufort Redevelopment Commission is to meet this week with four of the five, but will not divulge what visions have been expressed.

Public input will be taken only after the commission has vetted the ideas and the firms making them and chosen the one it prefers.

The commission and city attorney argue that these private meetings are part of a contract negotiation process, which the state Freedom of Information Act allows to be conducted in private.

Also cited as a concern is public disclosure of proprietary information and the chilling effect that could have on getting the best ideas for the city. But a city committed to transparency could address those concerns without shutting out the public at a critical stage of the process.

From the beginning, Beaufort officials have called this potential redevelopment a public-private partnership. That means the public must be treated as a partner. After all, the public might be asked to make a financial commitment to the redevelopment, and that requires openness.

The city should, at the very least, say what types of visions resulted from its wide cast for ideas: retail, dining, boat rentals?

We're talking about one of the most visible spots in Beaufort. It sits next to the Henry C. Chambers Waterfont Park on the main thoroughfare downtown. Its redevelopment raises related questions: What happens to the public parking, carriage tour operators and marina store now in place there?

The city Redevelopment Commission sees this as an exciting opportunity to better take advantage of the city's greatest asset -- the beautiful bend in the Beaufort River that offers views much grander than a parking lot deserves.

That is a good point. And that is why the public is interested in knowing what happened when ideas were sought. And that's why the city must be forthcoming with its public partners, the taxpayers.

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