House bill would suspend sale of Port Royal port

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 24, 2014 

The town of Port Royal is seeking $22.5 million to help purchase the Port of Port Royal, shown, from the S.C. Ports Authority.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • Dealing with the port

    Three bills have been introduced in March regarding the Port of Port Royal:

    • Senate Bill 1089, Sen. Tom Davis:
    • House Bill 4829, Rep. Shannon Erickson:
    • House Bill 4919, Rep. Kenneth Hodges:

As two bills pushing for a quick sale of the Port of Port Royal property work their way through the state legislature, a third has been introduced that would take it off the market.

Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Green Pond, introduced a bill March 12 that would suspend efforts to sell the 317 acres along Battery Creek and order the State Budget and Control Board and State Ports Authority to re-evaluate the "best use of the property for the benefit of the state."

"If the state cannot sell the property, then maybe it needs to be taken off the market," Hodges said.

The port has been closed since 2004, when the Ports Authority deemed it too expensive to operate. Since 2006, three different developers have tried unsuccessfully to buy it for residential and commercial development. The property includes 52 acres suitable for development.

"This is designed to get people to think outside of the box," Hodges said. "If you can't sell it, then maybe you should rethink selling it at the moment and do something else."

Among the possibilities are using part of the land as a state park and keeping other areas, specifically near the water, open and accessible to the public. Developers could lease part of the land from the state for hotels, museums and stores instead of buying it, he said.

All development should highlight the unique history of the area, he said, ranging from Frenchman Jean Ribaut's exploration in 1562 to the Port Royal Experiment during the Civil War, in which recently freed slaves worked land abandoned by white owners who fled.

"Port Royal could become the rival to Savannah and Charleston when it comes to the history of this area," he said.

Hodge's bill and plan don't sit well with Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray, who wants to see the port sold and developed to give the town a long-awaited economic boost.

"If it's still in the state's hands, that means I'm not getting any property taxes," he said.

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