Redevelopment Commission looks away from marina development, toward future

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 1, 2014 

The Beaufort Downtown Marina on April 29, 2014.

STAFF PHOTO

  • The Redevelopment Commission also

    • Discussed progress of the Baptist Church of Beaufort residential project, which commission member Mike McNally said is moving along well.
    • Received an update on the Lafayette Street housing project. Infrastructure permits have been issued, city planner Libby Anderson said. Work could begin in a few weeks, McNally said.
    • Learned a multi-organization initiative to create more opportunities for housing is moving along, according to commission member Wendy Zara. Focus is on identifying needs, and finding money for a new director position with the Beaufort Housing Authority.
    • Discussed a proposal to build a parking structure on Port Republic Square.
    • Heard about work with the University of South Carolina Beaufort on exploring expansion opportunities and neighborhood concerns.

Two days after public sentiment turned the tide against plans to develop the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, the city's Redevelopment Commission sat down Thursday night to discuss where to go from here.

An official decision by City Council is expected at a special meeting Tuesday, but all five members said earlier this week said they are not interested in pursuing commercial and residential development on the 4.2-acre site.

With that in mind, commission chairman Jon Verity said he hopes officials can channel the passions of residents who have spoken up in recent weeks and create a group to develop new ideas for the lot.

"I'm hoping everyone can work together to create a better Beaufort, and that's been the goal," he said.

That includes addressing a struggling economy in a city plagued by a decreased population, lower incomes, fewer jobs and less revenue for city services.

"We're a small city in the midst of a lot of people, and we're supporting services that are used by a lot of people," Verity said.

Resident Kathy Lindsay encouraged commission members to look closely at a petition signed by more than 2,000 people who want a park on the property.

Resident Dick Morehead suggested setting up an endowment or foundation-- an idea he originally introduced to city council on Tuesday -- to financially support the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and any added park space.

While calling it n interesting idea, commission member Alan Dechovitz said such an endowment would have to produce $250,000 annually to "substantially lift the burden" from the city of maintaining the park. There's also millions of dollars in stabilization work ahead -- perhaps $16 million over about 10 years -- that needs to be considered, he said.

"I don't want to discourage anybody, but let's understand we aren't raising money so we can plant flowers," Dechovitz said.

Commission member Stephen Murray wants to focus on projects that will fix problems such as struggling businesses, vacant properties and stunted economic growth. Such things are crucial for the success of Beaufort, he said.

"For those of us close to the city process and city finances, we know the city is not financially healthy," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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