Town Council met in a closed door session with a group that included representatives of the team of Chaffin-Light and The Furman Co. to discuss a contractual matter related to the property.
While that was going on inside Town Hall, broker and developer Whit Suber spoke outside the building about months of negotiations between Lowcountry Investments, LLC, which he represents, and the S.C. State Ports Authority, the property's owner.
They join Dick Stewart of 303 Associates, who made an offer Thursday to purchase part of the land for $4 million.
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The port has been vacant since 2004, when it was deemed too expensive to operate. The Ports Authority was ordered to sell the land, but three attempts since 2006 have fallen through.
CHAFFIN-LIGHT AND THE FURMAN COMPANY
Jim Chaffin, of Chaffin-Light in Beaufort, and Steve Navarro,of The Furman Co., in Greenville, most recently teamed up to explore options for developing the Beaufort Downtown Marina. That effort that was put to bed this spring in the face of public opposition.
Chaffin said before Wednesday's meeting his team has not made an official offer to buy the port. Navarro said the executive session Wednesday was to get "a better understanding of what the town wants and needs."
The next step is to have a similar meeting with the Ports Authority. Navarro said he has had preliminary discussions with that agency.
The town has a planned unit development that outlines desired zoning and growth for the port, and Navarro said his team has read and understands it.
LOWCOUNTRY INVESTMENTS, LLC
Suber said his organization has been negotiating with the Ports Authority for months about acquiring the entire 317-acre tract, 52 of which are buildable.
His plan is to build a mixture of retail, restaurant, commercial and residential buildings, with a "marine research component" that could bring thousands of career-track jobs, Suber said.
He said members of the group, which he would not name, have "significant funding capabilities," that do not require seeking outside financing.
Suber said he has spoken with council members and town manager Van Willis briefly about the proposed plans.
"It's important that we reach a certain point in those negotiations with the Ports board before we can continue with our negotiations with the town," he said.
Stewart made an offer last Thursday for 25.64 acres of the port property, which includes the port terminal on Battery Creek, a rear warehouse, the drystack and 10.8 acres that would be reserved for public open space and likely would be given to the town.
In the spring, Stewart made an offer of $1.2 million -- or the appraised value if higher -- for about 4 acres of land on behalf of the Santa Elena Foundation. That offer was not accepted.
Willis said he does not expect the Ports Authority to take action on any offers or plans until a new appraisal is completed.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, led an effort this spring to pass a new law designed to speed the property's sale.
The land's current appraised value of $22.5 million was set in spring 2013 and based on its use as a marine terminal facility, though it is not likely to be used that way again.
The new state law requires the land be reappraised as a closed industrial site.
Such an appraisal would take into consideration any environmental hazards and is likely to lower the asking price, Davis and others have said.
Ports Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand would not name the appraiser Wednesday, but said that person and the process being followed meets the legal requirements.
"This work is expected to be completed within the next 30 days or so, and at that time we will be in a position to properly evaluate various proposals, some of which have been received recently and others that are anticipated."
Dhand didn't respond to a reporter's request for a specific number of proposals.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.