One of the last Lowcountry Economic Alliance projects finally comes to fruition

Lowcountry Economic Alliance
Lowcountry Economic Alliance

Beaufort County finally will construct a new, $4 million office building next year to try to lure business prospects to Bluffton.

The project to build a 40,000-square-foot building behind the county government center on Bluffton Parkway is the last holdover from the era of the now-defunct Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

But it has been trapped in limbo for nearly 14 months, as the county waited for a promised low-interest loan from Santee Cooper to finance the effort.

The state-owned utility sidelined that deal during an internal review over the past year -- the same period it finalized more than $200 million in incentives to secure a South Carolina Volvo factory -- but finally closed on the terms of the loan last month, said deputy county administrator Josh Gruber and chief financial officer Alicia Holland.

The loan will cover the construction of a two-story building shell, a retention pond and a 168-space parking lot, according to preliminary plans approved in August 2014.

With the project finally moving forward, the county hopes to have final designs and a contractor hired by early next year, Gruber said. Construction could begin in early spring.

"What this building is intended to do is market to high-end technology and medical companies," Gruber said. "Even though there's available commercial space, there's not available commercial space of this size."

The county had intended to have the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, the county's formal economic development partner at the time, market the building to those types of businesses, and at least one out-of-state "medical software company" was interested in leasing the space, Gruber and county administrator Gary Kubic said. They would not disclose the company.

Instead, County Council's support for the alliance's efforts wavered, the alliance ultimately folded in December and then Santee Cooper delayed its loan -- all of which led the prospect to walk away from the deal, Gruber said.

There are no current prospects for the building, Gruber said Monday.

County leaders remain optimistic it will be filled, however, because it offers a unique setup in the middle of a booming area, they said.

The plans do not include any interior layout, so it's a blank slate for a company to design as it sees fit, Gruber said. The low interest rate on the loan also gives the county flexibility to negotiate a favorable lease price for a company or offer more financial incentives, he added.

"It's just finally ready to move forward, and now we can work with any potential business prospects that come forward," Gruber said. "We're going to have a good building in a really nice location, so I think we'll be able to make a deal" for a tenant.

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