Marina developers combining data with public input as they create plan

emoody@beaufortgazette.comDecember 5, 2013 

This artist's rendering shows how the Beaufort Downtown Marina could look with a multi-use building that would offer rowboat rentals, the conversion of the day dock into a dock for rowing sports and dinghies and the addition of a high quality day dock near Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

CITY OF BEAUFORT — Submitted photo

Developers of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot are examining data about the economics, tourism and residents of the city and how those numbers play into the public comments they're receiving.

Steve Navarro and Jim Chaffin of Historic Marina Partners met with the Redevelopment Commission on Thursday to offer a status report and hear additional feedback.

The developers are a month into a two- or three-month information period that will be followed by the creation of a written plan.

Chaffin said the plan will then be brought back to residents for additional feedback back before a final proposal is made to City Council.

That final proposal is not due until May, according to an agreement the developers signed with council and the commission.

"This marina parking lot is both psychologically, and indeed legally, owned by the people who live here," Chaffin said. "So unless we can come up with something that is additive to the lives of the people who live here, there's not going to be much enthusiasm about building there."

Navarro said the data is revealing a need for both more hotel rooms and more upscale places for people to stay.

On the other hand, retail business owners and business license information indicate stores are struggling downtown.

"If retail isn't that sustainable and beds are, then maybe we need to think about that," he said.

Navarro, who lives in Greenville, said he is staying at the Hilton Garden Inn on Boundary Street because he couldn't find a room downtown. Getting people to stay in the historic district is important, he said.

"If you get them downtown, they won't leave," Navarro said. "They'll walk until they drive home."

That conclusion was supported by a presentation Thursday by Robb Wells of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has been tracking tourism data for the last year.

Demand for rooms is up 8 to 9 percent, but the number of available rooms is flat, Wells said.

Anything built on the city-owned parking lot should revitalize and invigorate the downtown, Chaffin said.

"If we can, we need to create an experience downtown, so that not just tourists but the residents in the community want to come downtown," he said.

Parking, which would be displaced by development, continues to be a major concern. Chaffin said that was one of the principal issues they heard during a meeting with the board of directors of Main Street Beaufort, USA.

According to the agreement, the proposal from the developers must include a parking solution. But Navarro said he doesn't see any financially viable way for the partners to create parking.

Instead, he believes their role is to be a catalyst that helps the city provide parking.

Navarro thinks there could be a way for development of the parking lot to finance a city-initiated parking solution, such as a parking garage. He did not provide specifics.


In other business, the commission:

  • Heard from city attorney Bill Harvey in response to a Dec. 1 article in The Beaufort Gazette about the process used in choosing a developer for the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot. Harvey told the commission it did everything as it should have.
  • Heard an update from commission member Mike McNally about the Lafayette Street housing project, which continues to be stymied by permit issues.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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