Bluffton to discuss undisclosed business for Buckwalter Place

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comMarch 16, 2014 

Bluffton Town Council will soon discuss contributing $1 million to buy land in hopes of luring a business that hasn't been publicly identified to Buckwalter Place.

The council is expected to consider the proposal in a closed-door meeting at 6 p.m. March 25 at Town Hall and could vote afterward, according to town spokeswoman Debbie Szpanka.

The town's approval would complete a proposed partnership with Beaufort County and a Bluffton economic development group aimed at bringing a hotel to Buckwalter Place, the development's plans suggest.

Under the partnership, the town, county and economic development group would each contribute $1 million to buy about 34 acres of undeveloped property in the center and north side of Buckwalter Place.

That 34 acres is owned by Buckwalter Place developer Tom Zinn.

The town's economic development group, a nonprofit organization called the Bluffton Public Development Corp., hopes the partners will buy the 34 acres because the group already has plans to sell about 10 to 12 of those acres to the unidentified company, according to Roberts Vaux, the development corporation's board chairman.

Officials will not say what industry that company is in or provide further details, citing ongoing negotiations.

The development corporation has worked eight months to lure the company to Bluffton, Vaux said.

Now it needs the town's approval before it can move forward with the purchase from Zinn and continue pursuing the interested company, he said.

County Council and the development corporation board already have voted to put up $1 million each for the deal, Vaux said.

As part of the purchase agreement for the 34 acres, the corporation, town and county would have 90 days to pay the total $3 million, Vaux said.

The county's $1 million share would come from its reserve fund, county attorney Josh Gruber said. The development corporation would have to arrange for financing, perhaps issuing bonds, Vaux said. Town officials have not said how Bluffton might pay its portion if it chooses to be a partner in the deal, but it might pay from its reserve fund, Vaux said.

The partnership needs to come together quickly to close the sale of the land, Vaux said. He would not say whether there is a deadline.

In a closed meeting with County Council on Feb. 25, Vaux reviewed the proposal with council members. In a public session that followed, Vaux told council members he hoped to close the sale in the next two weeks and needed a decision from the council that night to move forward.

Gruber, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville and Councilman Jerry Stewart say they have not heard updates on the deal since.

For now, the development corporation is focused on working with the town and closing the sale, Vaux said.

POSSIBLE PLANS?

Site plans created in 2008 for Buckwalter Place suggest the Bluffton Public Development Corp. might be trying to attract a hotel and resort to the property.

The same 34 acres the town, county and economic development group hope to purchase are divided into five tracts in those site plans, which were created by Buckwalter Place developer Buckwalter Commercial LLC.

The largest of those tracts is 11.2 acres on the north end of the site next to the Island West Golf Club, according to the Buckwalter Place website.

It is the only tract that matches the description of the 10- to 12-acre area the Bluffton Public Development Corp. is marketing to the unnamed company.

Those plans show that tract as being the site of a 200,000-square-foot hotel and resort, according to the Buckwalter Place website.

However, the plans are merely a framework for development in the area; they're not set in stone, according to Matt Green, a partner at Buckwalter Commercial LLC. Any new development on the property would be subject to town permitting and planning approvals, regardless of what the site plan envisioned, he added.

"All site plans are put in place to guide development from a conceptual standpoint," Green said. "But obviously, market demands change plans from time to time."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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