Although the city of Beaufort is focusing much of its economic-development effort on a commerce park it purchased last year, a local developer thinks the focus of renewal for northern Beaufort County might be a few miles away.
"It's the next 100 years of growth out here," Merritt Patterson says, touting the Burton Industrial District.
Patterson calls it the "golden triangle," a shape that roughly captures the land between and near Beaufort Plaza, Jericho Point and the intersection of Parris Island Gateway and Boundary Street.
To draw attention to Burton, he is creating informational materials and pitching his idea to developers and groups like the Beaufort County Senior Leadership Program.
Burton itself is unincorporated and lies mostly outside of Beaufort city limits. However, the area is largely within growth boundaries agreed to by county and municipal governments and more of it could eventually be annexed by the city.
However, developing that area runs counter to the walkable, urban-center concept that Beaufort leaders have advocated.
"I don't think a lot of people measure the quality of their life by walkability," Patterson said. "I think they measure quality of life by whether they have a job and can afford what they need and want."
Beaufort Redevelopment Commission Chairman Jon Verity says he sees potential in Burton, particularly for smaller businesses or those that want to be closer to the city's core than the Beaufort Commerce Park, which is within city limits, near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
"It gives people options, and that's what we need," Verity said.
Hundreds of vacant acres are available for development, Patterson said, and they either already have necessary roads and utilities or plans in place for such improvements. Some of those plans, such as those for land owned by Dr. John Gray, date back as far as 1986, according to Patterson.
Patterson owns several acres of undeveloped land and the 32-acre, mostly filled Beaufort Industrial Park, which is about five miles from the city's commerce park. Paul Trask also owns vast tracts of land in Burton, and others have smaller residential, business and vacant plots.
"Our hope is that we can encourage the owners of the big, vacant pieces to develop and do something with them," Verity said.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said Burton "is where Beaufort should be built, residentially and commercially," but said that area isn't his primary focus. He believes bringing business to Boundary Street/U.S. 21 and filling vacant downtown properties are more pressing matters.
New business along U.S. 21 will drive growth into Beaufort, Keyserling said. Its link to U.S. 17 provides a straight shot to Charleston and Savannah, making it attractive to companies that want access to both markets and to Interstate 95.
Patterson notes that Burton is already a growth center, however. It is home to the Cross Creek Shopping Center, with stores like Walmart and Best Buy, and to a multi-business development that includes IHOP. Parris Island Gateway bisects the two developments.
"From a decrepit, rundown mobile home park to this," he said of the IHOP location. "That's economic development."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.