One year out, Beaufort Commerce Park yet to announce new tenant

A section of the Beaufort Commerce Park is shown here Wednesday afternoon at the corner of Schwartz and Schork Road.
A section of the Beaufort Commerce Park is shown here Wednesday afternoon at the corner of Schwartz and Schork Road. Sarah Welliver

One year ago, Beaufort City Council decided to buy a foundering industrial park and launch an effort to fill it with companies that could diversify the local job market.

One year later, no new tenant has set up shop at the Beaufort Commerce Park, despite intimations by several city officials that one would soon arrive.

Mayor Billy Keyserling said that prospective tenant he had hoped to announce by now is still considering the park, as is another company that he believes could wind up there. He is also talking with a local business interested in expanding and moving into the park.

"We're slower than I anticipated, but we're still working almost every day on it," Keyserling said.

He would not name or give details about any of the businesses.

Beaufort Redevelopment Commission Chairman Jon Verity also continues to believe the park will blossom when a new tenant is found.

"I really believe that at some point we're going to find someone who is the right fit," he said. "If we don't try, if we don't make an effort, if we don't have a place for them to go, then we'll never get them."

The park, which began about four decades ago as a private venture, has a long history of struggling to attract companies. Most of the 209 acres -- 167 of which can be built upon -- are vacant.

The city bought the park last year for $1.8 million from S.C. Bank & Trust, which had purchased it in a foreclosure auction for $2 million in fall 2011. The previous owner, the Lowcountry Economic Network, the county's business-recruitment arm at the time, folded after it could no longer afford the mortgage and the county refused to bail it out.

Beaufort City Council voted to buy the park April 3, 2012. The sale closed May 31.

The city is working with the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, the network's successor, to attract businesses and developers. The alliance also created the Transitional Workforce Educational Assistance Collaborative to examine job-training needs and ways to provide that training to Marines exiting the Corps. The idea was to give Beaufort a ready workforce.

"I think it was a very smart thing to do on the city's part, and it would be a significant game changer for Beaufort if we were to get a large employer there, and (it's) really the only place that they could go," Verity said.

Blakely Williams, executive director of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said her organization remains "very much in support" of the park purchase.

"We acknowledge and appreciate the fact that good projects take some time to develop and we share the city's vision of economic development in the park," she said via email.

The chamber has created a committee to work with members and municipalities to leverage opportunities and intends to create action plans to tighten the economic development focus, she said.

Keyserling, who originally proposed buying the park, said he is more confident every day the purchase was the right decision. He said the economy is improving, and Beaufort's location between Savannah and Charleston makes it attractive to a variety of industries, such as manufacturing and aeronautics.

"These things work very slowly because you've got banks, you've got builders, you've got the state, you've got the prospects," he said. "... We're largely starting from scratch."

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Related content:

Beaufort celebrates Commerce Park purchase; no new tenants secured, July 12, 2012

Beaufort Council hopes Commerce Park purchase will spur economic development, April 3, 2012City officials hope to announce new Beaufort Commerce Park tenant in 2013, Dec. 26, 2012