A white tent shaded dignitaries and members of the public on a busy Beaufort corner Friday to celebrate the end of a major road project.
The ceremony on an empty corner of Beaufort Plaza shopping center offered a glimpse of what's next as the city closes a $33 million road project that transformed Boundary Street over more than two years.
The end of the work is also expected to bring an influx of new business to the area, including the reshaped Beaufort Plaza, where large tracts of undeveloped property sit beside one of northern Beaufort County's most highly traveled areas.
Another, much smaller road improvement project on Greenlawn Drive off of Boundary Street, planned to begin soon, is expected to spur additional development.
And while private developers go to work, the city's focus will shift to drainage projects to address flooding issues in neighborhoods hit hard by storms in recent years.
Here's what's coming.
New business on Boundary Street and beyond
Big changes are expected at Beaufort Plaza, currently home to a movie theater, the office retailer Staples, a post office and the big-box store Big Lots.
"This is the prime area," Beaufort city manager Bill Prokop said as traffic breezed past the Boundary Street ribbon-cutting ceremony at the shopping center Friday. "Right here where we're standing is where people want to be if they're a retailer."
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling credited the Trask family, which owns the property, for some of the Boundary Street project's early engineering work. He said Paul Trask has a master plan for the shopping center.
Trask has declined to comment on his plans in recent months, saying he is subject to a nondisclosure agreement. Keyserling said he believes several familiar retailers are lined up to join the shopping center.
Some of the deal-making had to wait until deed transfers were complete with the state, after the intersection of Robert Smalls Parkway and Boundary reshaped the shopping center and state-owned roads.
A project connecting Robert Smalls Parkway to Boundary Street via a road behind Beaufort Plaza should be finished within a month, Prokop said.
Developers are also eying a 100-acre property nearby off Salem Road for a potential housing development.
An economic study before the road work said the city could expect a 5-to-1 return on its investment in increased property values along Boundary Street.
A $1.7 million project planned to improve Greenlawn Drive is also expected to help drive development in the Boundary Street area. The road work will help connect residents of two affordable housing apartment developments with nearby businesses, and more homes, apartments or student housing could be built on the undeveloped property later, city officials say.
Part of the Greenlawn project will be covered by a community development block grant with matching money from the city. The rest will be covered with money remaining from a special tax district created to help pay for Boundary Street work, city finance director Kathy Todd said.
Preparing for high water
Beaufort's next major public investment will be drainage projects after flooding from Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma — and even high water during unremarkable rainstorms — tormented residents in the Mossy Oaks area.
Early work will include digging out ponds and ditches, some of which is already being done. More major solutions include the possibility of one or more ponds in Southside Park.
The city plans to raise its stormwater fee to help cover the anticipated $5 million in bonds to pay for drainage projects in Mossy Oaks and to address smaller issues in other areas of the city.
The city expects an engineering report in July and will pursue grant money before major planning and construction begins, city public projects director Neal Pugliese said.
"People would say, 'Hey, if you take care of this one ditch in front of my house, my problem is going to be cured," he said. "But what we need to do is take a look at the larger system. I want science to drive our solutions."
Closing the book on Boundary Street
A work crew polished one of the final concrete curbs poured this week on Boundary Street. An excavator gathered and moved construction materials Friday morning to make way for visitors arriving to celebrate the end of the road project.
Some angst remains over the project, evidenced by a sign planted at one entrance to Beaufort Plaza asking why bike lanes weren't included in the final plans. City and county officials said Friday they hoped everyone could return to business as normal now that cones are moving out and traffic is flowing as expected.
More than 35 miles of utility cables were buried as part of the work, and utility poles were removed. Center landscaped medians and 6 miles of new curbs and gutters now greet drivers.
Some visitors to the ceremony arrived by bike or on foot via the newly constructed multi-use sidewalks.
The city posted aerial photos to its Facebook page on Friday showing before and after views of the transformation.
"This project was a massive undertaking," County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said. "It was so much more than a paving project."