New plans for Beaufort marina parking lot arouse old themes

emoody@beaufortgazette.comDecember 7, 2013 

The city of Beaufort has ideas about using a plot of land on its downtown waterfront, but not everyone agrees with the plan.

Some think development should be left to the private sector.

Others fear buildings will block views of the water.

If the recent debate over the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking area sounds familiar, that's because it is. Disagreement over the site is even older than the marina itself.

Back in 1962 -- more than a half century before the city's recent decision to work with a company formed by Steve Navarro and Jim Chaffin on a plan to redevelop the property -- the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce entertained a proposal from Phillips Petroleum Co. to build a marina next to the publicly owned parking lot.

Reaction was swift. Petitions circulated. Forty-one business owners signed one urging City Council to approve the plan so it could be in place in the fall. Another 196 residents signed petitions against the idea, circulated by the owner of Beaufort Marina on Factory Creek and his friends.

"One good-paying marina would be worth more to the community and to yacht operators than would two, each of which would retard the development of the other," marina owner Abraham Lincoln Gallop was quoted in The Beaufort Gazette in 1962.

Gallop died in 2011 at age 92.

Gallop countered with his own proposal, that involved a $1 annual lease of private property he owned 100 feet away from the proposed site. He and his business partner would each buy $6,000 shares to fund it. All chamber officials who voted in favor had to also buy the same shares. However, he continued to say it would be a money-losing operation and would hurt his marina.

Sinclair Refining Co., which operated a gas station where Freedom Mall is, proposed opening a marina at its expense.

City officials approved the Sinclair plan, and in 1963 broke ground on what is today the bathroom and laundry room facilities for the marina. The marina store is in the former chamber building.

Harbormaster Rick Griffin was 11 in 1962, and his father leased both the Sinclair gas station and the marina. His father eventually bought the marina business outright from Sinclair, and in 1974, Griffin joined the operation he now manages. The city owns the land, and Griffin owns the business.

That was about the time officials talked about knocking down the marina building and building a new one on the expanded parking lot, which became part of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park project. It, like several expansion proposals, died quickly without inciting public reaction. The projects were too expensive.

Of course, similar objections were made about the conversion of the waterfront wharf into Waterfront Park, Griffin noted, and are aired again with the recent redevelopment proposal.

Today, most people love the marina, Griffin said, but it was built only because "there was enough political will on council at that time to just go past the naysayers," Griffin said.

In the late 1990s, the chamber, merchants association and other groups proposed a building on the property, by Bay Street, with room for the marina, chamber and nonprofit organizations, according to Mike McFee, a past chamber president and current city councilman.

"It wasn't well received," he said.

People said nothing should be there, that a building would block views.

"It just became too cumbersome with the negative outcry," McFee said.

History notwithstanding, McFee said disagreement over current proposals will not be so divisive.

"I think what has happened in Beaufort is the realization that we have to have a sustainable economy," he said. "... We need something that gives a shot in the arm for economic development."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Marina developers combining data with public input as they create plan, Dec. 5, 2013

Choice of firm to plan Beaufort marina development occurred behind closed doors, Nov. 30, 2013

Marina developers seek Beaufort residents' input, Nov. 13, 2013

Spring Island developer, Greenville developer pair up for Beaufort Downtown Marina project, Nov. 12, 2013

Abraham Lincoln Gallop: An acorn who grew into a mightly oak, May 10, 2011

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