Plans to renovate the former Beaufort Depot into commercial space on the Spanish Moss Trail were announced as indefinitely on hold Tuesday during a City Council work session.
The city's Redevelopment Commission and planners envisioned the building as a trail feature with stores. But potential developers of the project say it would be difficult to get bank financing for commercial development and because of doubt about future ownership of the depot, said Craig Lewis of the city's Office of Civic Investment.
The trail is part of the National Trails System Act, which could allow a railroad company to one day put it back into operation. So even though the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority bought the rail right of way for $3 million in 2009 and is leasing a portion to the city, it could one day be converted back to a railroad.
"It's really hard to justify putting any money into a building that you don't own, that you won't own," Lewis said.
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The depot, however, could be renovated, and funding might be available for that, city officials said when questioned by Maxine Lutz, interim director for the Historic Beaufort Foundation. The depot is not in the historic downtown district, but it is significant to the community, Councilman Mike Sutton said.
"This is one of the rare occasions that a building isn't in the historic district that everyone is championing around," Sutton said.
For now, though, Dean Moss of the Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail and city officials discussed only stabilizing and securing the depot by covering broken windows and replacing glass doors to improve its appearance and security. The doors would be open during the day for people to travel through, and it would be locked at night.
Kathy Lindsay, president of the Hermitage Road Area Neighborhood Association, urged officials to honor an agreement to include residents in any renovation plans that exceed basic stabilization of the depot.
"Just as a good-neighbor thing, running it through the design process would be a good thing," she said.
About a dozen residents who live near the trail attended the council session to hear how and where streets would cross the path.
Discussions on the crossing roads, some of which go over private property, continue with county and state officials, and no decisions have been made. Lewis suggested the Middleton Street crossing of the trail be moved closer to the depot to make it easier to police the area. Parallel parking is planned at the trailhead by Depot Road.
Sidewalks are planned to connect the trail at Allison Road to Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Ribaut Road. A speed bump at the trail crossing would slow traffic. The sidewalk project would cost about $480,000, and up to $400,000 in grants could be available, Lewis said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.