Port Royal explores U.S. Naval Hospital site uses

Port Royal officials already are talking about possible uses for the 127-acres on which U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort sits.

While acknowledging the hospital's move -- if it moves at all --likely is years away, town manager Van Willis said Port Royal would be foolish not to think about what could be done with the waterfront property that could become available should the Naval Hospital move across town to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

"We want to avoid the perception that we're planning the fate of the Naval Hospital," he said. "This is still probably five to 10 years off, so we don't want to be too aggressive, but we'd be shortsighted not to think about possible uses for the property. We don't want to be caught flat-footed."

Though the town has yet to discuss what it would like to do with the land, opening up traffic to businesses near the Naval Hospital and improving public access to Fort Frederick, a British fort built in 1735 to protect Beaufort, are high priorities, said Joe Lee, Port Royal town councilman.

"We've always wanted access through that property to the water," he said. "There's a historic place down there that no one can get to. We would want to make it a minimal requirement to open that up."

The proposal for a new hospital has been submitted to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast, which oversees construction for Marine Corps and Navy projects in seven states including South Carolina.

Funding for the new hospital has not been secured, though an area behind the MCAS Federal Credit Union has been slated as the proposed site for the new hospital, according to an air station spokesman.

The Navy said the soonest the project would begin is 2010.

This is not the first time the town has considered what it would do with the parcel, which includes the hospital, 53 homes, two barracks, a Navy exchange retail store, a gas station and a convenience store.

The town's most recent comprehensive plan, written in 2004, called for a study into future uses for the property should the hospital move or be closed. That study has not been conducted.

Given the size of the property and its significance, town planning manager Linda Bridges said she wouldn't delve too deeply into what should be done with the Naval Hospital land in the comprehensive plan.

"We are going to broach the subject, but it's such a unique situation and such a unique opportunity that it shouldn't be visited at this level in the comp plan," she said. "The scope and importance of this parcel would rise to the level of having its own master plan. It's a blank slate. It's sitting on 120-plus sparsely developed acres and there's a lot that can be done out there. A lot of folks have a vision for that property and are getting their head around those possibilities."