The city of Beaufort's Redevelopment Commission was mostly hush-hush about its search for a partner to help give the Beaufort Downtown Marina a makeover.
But a day after the partner was announced, the company's principals were chatting up the project and seeking public input about plans for the 4.2-acre lot.
The Redevelopment Commission met Wednesday morning to sign off a memorandum of understanding that the city and Historic Marina Partners LLC agreed to the night before. The document outlines a process that includes completion of a development plan within 180 days and public input.
Steve Navarro, president of The Furman Co. of Greenville, and Beaufort developer Jim Chaffin, of Chaffin-Light, are creating Historic Marina Partners LLC for the project. They said they have no plans for the property yet but that the area needs a mixed-use development that could include a combination of residential, commercial, food and beverage, and lodging.
However, they said the public will determine the mix, as well as other aspects of the project.
"We don't look upon this as us coming in, saying, 'Look we've been at this a long time, surely you trust us to do this work,' " Chaffin said. "... We don't look upon this as only an opportunity but also as an obligation."
Navarro and Chaffin attended the Redevelopment Commission meeting Wednesday morning, along with about a dozen residents. They also conducted an afternoon presentation at the Best Western Sea Island Inn that attracted about 24 people.
Some supported the project; others opposed it.
Concerns included adding the right mix of businesses to attract affluent tourists and new residents, and ensuring the development fits the surroundings.
Several residents asked about replacing lost parking if the lot is developed. The agreement between the developers and city stipulates that a plan for on- and off-site parking must be included in the final concept.
Navarro said he's known of the marina property for about a year and a half and was having informal conversations with Redevelopment Commission chairman Jon Verity and other officials before the city solicited letters of interest from developers.
Four other developers submitted responses. None of the responses -- including Historic Marina Partners' -- has been made public, and the city has denied two public-records requests for them made by The Beaufort Gazette.
However, Verity released the names of the four other developers Wednesday. They are the Gramling Brothers of Charleston; East West Partners of Charleston, Blanchard and Calhoun of Augusta, and Steve Tully of Beaufort.
Verity said specific plans were not discussed with any developers. Instead, Chaffin and Navarro were chosen because "they really provide a variety of things we thought we needed," he said.
When city officials initially began talking about soliciting letters of interest, they called it "idea gathering" and said there was no guarantee anything would come from the solicitation.
The agreement does not mandate a development project, and any plan would need City Council approval before it could be built, city officials said.
The project is expected to be "consistent with the intent of the Civic Master Plan," according to the agreement. That plan, updated last fall, shows a water sports complex. But Mayor Billy Keyserling said that plan is only a guide.
Historic Marina Partners must present market analysis and other data showing the project will be financially self-sustaining, and draw up a conceptual design, according to the agreement. Ownership of the property would be transferred from the city to the Redevelopment Commission, which could negotiate lease or sales terms with the developers.
Keyserling said he believes council would prefer to lease it. There has been no discussion of giving it away, he said.
Video: Developers for Beaufort Downtown Marina project meet with public
Steve Navarro, right, president of The Furman Co. in Greenville, listens as Beaufort developer Jim Chaffin of Chaffin-Light, left, speaks to Beaufort residents Nov. 13, 2013, during the start of a meet-and-greet with the public sponsored by Main Street Beaufort, USA Wednesday afternoon inside the Best Western on Bay Street.Sarah Welliver
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.