Port Royal exploring financing options for port property

emoody@beaufortgazette.comApril 2, 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

  • In other business, council:

    • Voiced frustration with the Beaufort County Council vote against adding a local-option sales tax to a fall referendum.
    • Discussed the county's Capital Sales Tax Commission and the projects it is considering for the proposed tax, which would need to be voted on in a fall referendum.
    • Discussed progress on plans to extend the Spanish Moss Trail across Ribaut Road and into the town of Port Royal. The road crossing continues to be the biggest obstacle to the project, town manager Van Willis said.
    • Discussed the progress of the Old Village Association on its reorganization and financial stability efforts. The association's annual Soft Shell Crab Festival is April 19.
    • Heard an update on the town's branding and marketing project.
    • Heard about changes recommended by a citizen advisory committee to address issues with zoning for gas stations under the proposed form-based code.

Despite an inability to borrow even 10 percent of the current appraised value of the Port of Port Royal, the town of Port Royal continues to explore financing options.

Town manager Van Willis provided an update on the potential purchase during a Town Council work session Wednesday night.

"I'm trying to wrap my head around this one still," Willis said.

The 317-acre port -- which has 52 buildable acres -- is owned by the S.C. State Ports Authority. It has been vacant since 2004 when the authority deemed it too expensive to continue operating. Three attempts by developers to purchase the land since 2006 have been unsuccessful.

In March, Ports Authority board chairman Bill Stern approached the town with the idea of selling the property to the town. Stern said the authority would be willing to sell the port -- appraised at $22.5 million -- at a reduced price. The authority would not, however, be willing to finance the purchase, he said previously.

The town has a borrowing limit of $2.1 million, set by state law and based on the $28 million worth of taxable property within town limits.

Town bond attorney Frannie Heizer and Willis are contacting banks about financing options. Concerns about alternative financing options include the potential effect on bond and credit ratings, as well as limitations on borrowing for other town needs, Willis said.

"Hopefully they're going to get back with a way to make this happen," he said.

In the meantime, a citizens' group is continuing to seek signatures for a petition asking the Ports Authority to come to town for a public meeting, member Judy Alling said. The group is also continuing to ask residents to send letters to Ports Authority members and other officials urging the sale.

The group is also making T-shirts emblazoned with the word "SIN," Alling said, which stands for "Sell it now."

Mayor Sam Murray thanked the group for its work.

"If you recall the wording of the petition, it demands a meeting be held by the Ports Authority to give us information and to ask for public opinion," Alling said. "I have heard nothing."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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