Hardeeville breaks ground on RiverPort project

rlurye@islandpacket.comMarch 27, 2014 

When David Moore began telling people of his company's plan to develop more than 5,100 acres of land in Hardeeville, they called him crazy.

They said RiverPort was a good idea and its location -- hugging Interstate 95 and the Savannah River -- was perfect, but the project was never going to happen, said Moore, a senior investment manager for Stratford Land.

That was 2009.

On Thursday morning, Moore and a handful of local leaders broke ground on the development, which they say will secure Jasper County's economic future.

"Over and over, we heard, 'You'll never see groundbreaking at RiverPort,' and here we are today," Hardeeville Mayor Bronco Bostick said. "We are so close to the day when our best and brightest young people can stay right at home and have jobs and opportunities."

RiverPort is a joint effort among the city, county, Stratford, the Southern Carolina Alliance and real estate investment management company Jones Lang LaSalle. Based on the size of the development, Stratford expects to attract more than $875 million in investments, and an economic benefit study revealed it could create as many as 10,500 new jobs, said Stephen Grable, Jones Lang LaSalle senior vice president.

Over the next six to eight months, contractors will build the RiverPort Parkway, which is off U.S. 17 and will connect to Interstate 95 at exit 3. The road will serve as the entrance to the RiverPort Business Park, a 172-acre industrial section of the development.

Once complete, the RiverPort project will extend north to Church Road and include a commercial village, residential space, schools and a public safety unit.

The business park will also include a 350-acre space for more than 3.5 million square feet of industrial, distribution and warehouse use.

"There's not a better piece of property in this part of the world," Southern Carolina Alliance president Danny Black said. "Everything is here to make this a megasite in this state."

While the development -- expected to fill in over the next 20 to 30 years -- has a prime location near the Savannah Port and planned Jasper Ocean Terminal, its best advantage may be the timing of its construction.

The years following the recession have been difficult for local industrial parks, such as the Beaufort Commerce Park, which has not attracted a new tenant since the city of Beaufort bought the park in 2012. Grable said the market is now poised for a recovery.

In Savannah, warehouse vacancy rates have dropped about 10 percent in the last 18 months, he said. Increasing demand will drive more companies to industrial and commercial parks, where they can design large buildings to their specifications, Grable said. No companies have committed to the RiverPort Business Park, though developers have identified several prospects, Grable said. Construction would begin when two or three users sign on, he said.

If one of those companies -- a manufacturer, perhaps -- relies heavily on railroads, Stratford would begin working with CSX to reactivate an out-of-use railway running through the land. That project would cost about $4.5 million and be paid for by CSX, Stratford and state grants, Grable said.

"This is economic development at its finest," Jasper County Council chairwoman Barbara Clark said. "There is always a time for change and that time is now in Jasper County."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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