A multimillion-dollar project that could help energize Beaufort’s downtown and add to initiatives to grow jobs in the city is back on track.
Work on the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce’s new building on Bladen and Duke streets is again underway after a fire destroyed the three-story structure in November 2016. The second effort is expected to be completed by June and would include retail space, an art gallery, a commercial kitchen for training hospitality workers and office space for a business incubator.
And while apprehension remains in the downtown Beaufort community and additional security measures are planned during construction, the organization’s head has accepted the results of a federal investigation ruling the fire accidental and looking forward.
“We’re getting this building completed this time,” President and CEO Larry Holman said. “It’s just too important having such an asset in this community.”
The incubator would join other job-growth efforts and add to new business and development in the area. Among the increased downtown activity:
▪ The Beaufort Digital Corridor on Carteret Street and at the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, a satellite office of the Bluffton initiative located in Beaufort City Hall.
▪ A planned hub on Craven Street to direct visitors to key Reconstruction Era sites as part of a new national monument.
▪ A newly constructed cottage adding three rooms to the Beaufort Inn.
▪ The announcement of two USC Beaufort learning communities in downtown launching in Fall 2018. A new private apartment complex planned on Boundary Street will target students.
▪ Several new businesses, including Bay Street home, appliance and kitchen stores and a new eatery, Hearth Wood Fire Pizza.
The Beaufort County Black Chamber will reserve ground floor space for a new business. A restaurant planned to move in before the fire last year but hasn’t reached back out, Holman said.
In addition to the incubator offices, single desk space will be available to rent for an affordable rate, Holman said. The Chamber offices will be in the building, and a state-of-the-art conference room will have the technology to host webinars and educational events.
The building is being paid for by a federal rural development loan, which the Chamber plans to repay with money generated from leases in the new building. The layout will be the same as before, with upgraded electrical wiring, Holman said.
A fire investigation team from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found the fire to be an accident, though it couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of the blaze that lit up the block in the early morning hours of Nov. 12, 2016.
Holman is comfortable with the findings but admitted to lingering uneasiness in the community. More cameras are planned and security will be on site as the building goes up.
“We’re blessed to have a community like we have,” Holman said. “We have so many volunteers that volunteered to do that without money, being the eye at night.”