Bluffton withdraws from Buckwalter Place land purchase plan

mmcnab@islandpacket.comJuly 15, 2014 

A proposed land purchase in Buckwalter Place by a public sector corporation is in jeopardy after Bluffton Town Council withdrew its support -- and a $750,000 contribution -- Tuesday night.

Bluffton will not take part in the planned 34-acre purchase at the industrial park -- designed to lure a high-tech company to the area -- after a measure approving the contribution and one approving expanded access to the Multi-County Industrial Park tax fund failed on a 3-2 vote.

Councilmembers Fred Hamilton, Karen Lavery and Larry Toomer voted against the proposal.

Mayor Lisa Sulka and Councilman Ted Huffman voted for it. The vote came after a nearly one hour-long executive session. Almost all of the corporation's board members were involved in council's closed session.

Public Development Corporation director and deputy town manager Marc Orlando said the corporation's board would meet Wednesday to discuss the town's decision and how to proceed.

Lavery said after the meeting she was concerned that the $4.2 million purchase would be made almost entirely with borrowed money. She also objected to the town entering what she called the real estate business -- a concern she also voiced about the town's Wharf Street Redevelopment Project.

The town's withdrawal means the corporation does not have enough money to buy the land. It also means it does not have enough access to the MCIP tax fund to pay back a $1.8 million loan it received last month from Santee Cooper to help buy the property from developer Tom Zinn.

With Bluffton's withdrawal, the corporation only has commitments from Beaufort County and the Beaufort County School District. The county has pledged $1 million while the school district has promised to provide $923,000.

In a related development, council on Tuesday offered Orlando the town manager's job, pending contract negotiations. Current town manager Anthony Barrett is retiring in September.

The offer means Orlando would step down from the corporation duties. No timeline for that move was set.

"I served it happily, and I believe I served it well," he said of the corporation.

Orlando said he felt "honored and blessed" to be considered for the town manager's job.

Huffman said after the meeting he did not think the land deal was finished, and that a purchase on a smaller scale could work.

"I'm not done with supporting it," he said. "This is Round 1, I guess. If it's good for Bluffton, I'm all for it. This area could be our economic engine."

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Related content: Some on school board question participation in Bluffton economic-development deal, July 13, 2014

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