Beaufort's mayor says the city should buy the 167-acre Commerce Park that last year was at the center of a foreclosure and controversy about public-private efforts to create jobs.
Billy Keyserling made his pitch during Tuesday's city council workshop.
His plan has two other parts. First, the city must get the support of the area's other government bodies for the Lowcountry Economic Alliance to attract and vet business opportunities. Then, local schools must help provide job-specific education.
The Lowcountry Economic Network bought the park in 2006, intending to pay off the debt it incurred to do so as it sold off parcels to businesses it attracted. However, much of that new business never materialized, and the network was unable to pay its debts.
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After Beaufort County Council decided not to purchase the property from the network, even after it went into foreclosure, the network went out of business and the park was sold at auction to S.C. Bank & Trust for $2 million, in a deal completed this past December.
The Lowcountry Economic Alliance, which began as an offshoot of the network but with a different structure and aims, has emerged as potential player economic development in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
The city's plan to buy the commerce park has been discussed for about a year.
Keyserling said he has been talking with the park's owners about a "specific" price, which he would not reveal , that is lower than the $2 million paid at auction.
"You can't go out and spend the public's money on some project that failed without a plan," Keyserling said.
The city has about $1.033 million in a fund to that could be used to purchase the land, City Manager Scott Dadson said. Keyserling said the purchase would not affect local taxes.
The purchase will come before council for consideration in the next month or so, but the other council members at the table were supportive Tuesday.
"We have really been snatched along in a good way, and we're all on board with this," councilman George O'Kelley said.
In his presentation, Keyserling pointed to opportunities for health care, aeronautics, logistics and supply chain businesses because of Beaufort's relative location to ports in Savannah and Charleston, as well as three interstates.
He said working with the Lowcountry Economic Alliance is "critical" to the plans success because it is a conduit between prospective businesses and the state Department of Commerce and financial incentives for those businesses.
A new Transition Work Force Education Assistance Collaboration, through the Alliance, is working with the Department of Commerce is developing job-training opportunities.
Technical College of the Lowcountry President Dr. Thomas Leitzel and USCB University of South Carolina Beaufort Chancellor Jane Upshaw both said they support this plan and job opportunities for their students.
"With an almost $750 million annual impact, we are a an economic engine for this region, there's no doubt about it, but here's the real issue," Upshaw said at the workshop. "When they walk across that stage and we hand them that diploma it breaks my heart for them to have to go to Charleston, or Savannah, or Columbia to get a job."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.