Three months after Beaufort City Council voted to include a new, larger building in the master plan for the Beaufort Downtown Marina, officials are asking developers what they would do with the property.
The Redevelopment Commission said it intends to seek "letters of interest" from local, state and national developers.
Commission chairman John Verity and project leader Alan Dechovitz discussed the plans with city council during a worksession Tuesday.
"We need to take advantage of property that is essentially being used as a parking lot today, but it is probably the most valuable piece of property in the city," Verity said.
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In October, city council approved changing the master plan to allow an additional 250 feet of day dock to the marina and a water sports and recreation center of 3,000-to-7,000 square feet. Councilman George O'Kelley Jr. voted against those changes because he did not feel a large building belonged in the marina lot.
"We voted for a concept, and now this concept is growing wings and feet and a tail and everything," he said at the time.
Verity said Tuesday that while the concept was for a center that attracts people to the waterfront, developers might have other ideas. The city owns the land, but the center -- or any other building -- would be funded by a private developer.
"I still like the idea of a water sports facility, but again we're not going to fund that, so someone else has to think that is a viable idea," he said.
Verity said commission members have discussed the property and a potential building "casually" with developers, but have not solicited proposals.
The commission plans to spend the next month doing engineering studies of the property. When the parking lot and the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park were built, marsh was filled in to provide a stable base. That base will need to be studied to see what it can support, or what would be needed to support a large structure.
Julie Franklin of the architectural firm The Lawrence Group, which has a contract with the city, said the studies would cost at least $7,500. City officials are soliciting three quotes for the work.
Those studies, and the designs and plans from the master plan, would be part of a package development groups would use in their proposals, Verity said.
The request for letters of intent would go out after the studies are completed, he said. Verity estimated responses would be due in 45 to 60 days. At that time, respondents would be invited to Beaufort to see the property, he said.
The commission's intent is to choose one or more developers to continue discussing projects and bring a recommendation to city council, according to a letter from the commission.
The process is expected to take 8 to 10 months, according to the letter. Verity said public meetings and comment opportunities will be held.
Mayor Billy Keyserling and O'Kelley said that a parking solution needs to accompany the project because it would take up spaces in the marina lot. The city master plan provides for a parking garage between West, Craven and Charles streets.
"If anything happens in the downtown, it needs to be hand and glove with the parking," O'Kelley said.
Keyserling said he would not want development in the marina parking lot before a parking solution is found. Council and commission members briefly discussed tying the marina and parking issues together as they sought developers, but decided against such an approach.