Walking into a meeting Thursday morning about building a downtown parking garage, one man said there was nothing new about the conversation -- Beaufort has been having it for 30 years.
But the conversation now has a new participant.
Structured Parking Solutions LLC has an option on part of the Port Republic Square block recently purchased by the Beaufort Inn, a subsidiary of developer 303 Associates. The location is noted on the city of Beaufort's Civic Master Plan as ideal for a parking structure.
SPS director of business development Greg Darden spoke with residents, business owners and civic officials Thursday at the Best Western Sea Island Inn on Bay Street -- two blocks from the proposed parking site.
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"Your thoughts are crazy important to us," Darden said. "You all are the voice of downtown."
Some in the audience, like Steve Harrison, owner of Rhett House Inn, were opposed.
"If you can't walk one block, two blocks in a city like Beaufort, that's crazy," he said. "... There's so much better use for that land than a parking garage."
Others -- particularly owners of downtown stores, restaurants and rental lodging -- seemed to support a garage on the site if it would bring them more customers.
"We've had 25 percent loss over the last three years, and I put 100 percent of the blame on the parking," said Beaufort Clothing Co. owner Scott Myers.
Peggy Simmers and her husband, Ed, own the only corner of the Port Republic Square block where there is a private home. She asked how the garage would be situated and if there were other good places for it.
Darden said the north side of the block, along Charles Street, is being considered. Other sites looked at are not as suitable, he said.
Darden added that it's possible to build a garage that fits into its surroundings, that more expensive parking should be near the downtown and less expensive parking farther away, and that parking plans should focus on long-term community needs.
He also said, with some prompting from an audience member, that "typical" cities subsidize parking because it benefits the community, but that can be cost-prohibitive. Community support and demand for a garage would be needed before it could be built, Darden said.
Darden said he met with city officials and staff about the approval process for such a project, but it is too early to talk about public subsidies.
He also met with developers creating a plan for the Beaufort Downtown Marina, but said nothing definitive came out of the brief talk.
"If the entire community does not buy into the need for parking -- deal off. Period. Deal off," he said.
Darden said the next steps are to sketch out ideas and bring them to the community for comment.
Follow reporter Erin Moody on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.