Beaufort News

Beaufort visitors bureau seeks funding for conference center study

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's tourism arm will ask local municipalities for funding to study whether a 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot conference center in northern Beaufort County is worth the investment.

The chamber's Visitor and Convention Bureau applied for a $12,000 grant from Beaufort County hospitality tax revenue and plans to ask the city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal each for the same amount, VCB executive director Bob Moquin said.

Expected to cost about $48,000, an independent feasibility and economic impact study would determine whether a conference center is a "justifiable project," and then calculate its potential economic impact, Moquin said.

A study also would offer a competitive analysis and possible strategies for funding the project.

"We want to take the right measure to demonstrate what (a conference center) could ultimately mean to our community," Moquin said.

The bureau asked for potential site locations last year and received nine submissions.

In July, about 125 people attended a public forum where they were asked for their opinions on the submitted locations and possible design features.

Using public input and other criteria, the bureau selected three sites that would be included in the study -- Beaufort Town Center near the intersection of Pearl and Queen streets, Beaufort Town Center at Greenlawn Drive, and Beaufort Plaza near the intersection of Robert Smalls Parkway and Boundary Street.

Moquin cautioned that the top sites could change. The initial criteria used to rank the locations did not include land costs, he said.

"These three won't actually be finalists until we go through this next phase," Moquin said.

It's been more than six years since local officials began studying the feasibility of a 25,000- to 50,000-square-foot center that would play host to events like conferences, Marine Corps reunions, weddings and high school graduations.

Ideally, a new center could seat about 1,000 people -- about 750 more than Beaufort's largest indoor gathering space, the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, officials have said.

The chamber commissioned a study in 2005 that showed such a center would make a positive economic impact, but those findings are now dated, Moquin said.

Beaufort County's contribution could come from a $100,000 pool of hospitality tax revenues set aside for special projects. The county's Accommodations Tax Board will review applications this month, according to the county's website.

Port Royal endorsed the bureau's request of hospitality tax revenue, but hasn't received a request for funding from the town yet, said town manager Van Willis.

Beaufort is expected to consider a similar endorsement at its workshop today.

"The city of Beaufort is prepared to join Beaufort County, Port Royal and the VCB to assist in the funding of the study," according to a draft of the city's letter to the county.