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After more than 40 years, changes could be coming to Beaufort’s waterfront. Here’s why

Rick Griffin was fresh out of Clemson and Beaufort’s famed waterfront park was just coming together when he began working at the small downtown marina his father owned.

Griffin’s relationship with the operation has spanned more than 40 years. When he retires as marina manager after the Beaufort Water Festival next year at age 67, the city will move on to another operator and is looking at what the marina could be in the future.

For his part, Griffin feels little needs to be done. The Beaufort Downtown Marina is a destination for cruising boaters, especially during the spring and fall, and a place they know they’ll be welcome, he said.

“We have been an open door to the city for many, many years,” Griffin said. “We are the first impression a lot of people get of the city.”

The city is looking for a short-term operator who can manage operations at the end of the current lease while officials decide what work might be needed for marina facilities and whether there are opportunities to expand.

City Manager Bill Prokop said an ad hoc city committee posed options to various groups about whether they preferred the marina:

  • Continue operating as is.
  • Become a regional marina of choice and more-desirable destination.
  • Offer more options for waterfront activities.

“Overwhelmingly, we heard that option two is what our stakeholders are most interested in — a regional marina that is a high-class, ‘must-stop’ destination,” Prokop said last month.

The city has obtained the past three years of the marina’s financial statements and will ask an engineering firm for an underwater assessment of the docks and pilings.

The marina maintains 1,000 feet of dock space, with about 55 boats docked on a long-term basis, Griffin said. Transient boaters make up about 50 percent of the business, spending money via higher dock fees, buying fuel and supplies, eating in downtown restaurants and taking the marina’s courtesy car to local stores.

Tourists book carriage tours and walking tours offered through the marina office, and the marina store sells clothing and gifts in addition to boat supplies.

Selecting a new operator will allow officials the chance to see what facility upgrades or public-access improvements might be possible, said Mike Sutton, a Redevelopment Commission member who was part of a small committee meeting with various groups about the marina.

A new city day dock and more long-term boaters moored in the Beaufort River after storms in recent years seemed to have helped liven the waterfront, Sutton said. Future steps could include looking at whether access could be improved for smaller recreational boats, kayaks and paddleboards.

“The grand vision is probably not so grand, but probably more refined,” Sutton said.

The next operator could do well without changing much, Griffin said.

He has tried different ideas throughout the years, including fishing tournaments, that didn’t last. Building new facilities, such as boat storage, is limited by what is allowed in the historic district and the horses and van tours already using the parking lot, he said.

The marina started behind a former service station John Griffin leased on the waterfront after World War II.

Griffin sold the marina to the city for an initial 20-year lease to manage the operations. It’s been renewed twice since then.

John Griffin died in 1999, and Rick Griffin is nearing the end of a 10-year-lease agreement, which grants the city a percentage of the marina’s gross profits.

“Just like anything else, it’s kind of tough to let go,” Griffin said. “It will take some getting used to.”