Beaufort News

Port of Port Royal gets third purchase interest, but contract has long way to closing

Months after a $16.75 million purchase fell through, the S.C. State Ports Authority has started formal negotiations with a new prospective buyer for the Port of Port Royal property.

The authority signed a letter of intent Thursday to sell the 51-acre property along Battery Creek, authority spokesman Byron Miller confirmed Thursday.

Citing the negotiations, officials would not release the buyer's name, the sale price or how long it has to sign a purchase agreement.

The authority will take the property off the market while it finalizes a contract with the potential purchaser, but the deal is far from done, Miller said.

If and when a purchase agreement is signed, the buyer would still need time to conduct studies, work with the town on any development concerns and perform due diligence.

Town manager Van Willis described the buyer as a "coalition of folks" coming together for this deal. Members of that coalition had been "sniffing" around the property for about five months, Willis added.

Town officials took the group on tours of the property and have discussed extensively a development agreement crafted by the town and authority, Willis said. That same agreement, which expires in July 2012, was a point of contention last year when Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development sought to buy the property and eliminate a 10-acre waterfront park at the end of London Avenue, putting homes there instead.

Many residents and then-Gov. Mark Sanford opposed the loss of open space and waterfront access.

The new buyers "understand open space is an issue," Willis said.

The latest letter of intent marks the third signed since Sanford ordered the port property to be closed and sold in 2004.

A group of Hilton Head Island investors tried to get financing for the parcel in 2007, but the deal fell apart in 2008.

Earlier this year, the Gramling Brothers of Charleston backed away from a pending $16.75 million contract.

The company had concerns about title issues on several smaller pieces of property within the 51 acres and restrictions on a more than 200-slip marina, town and authority officials said at the time.

Gramling Brothers requested more time to work through those issues before making a scheduled $50,000 deposit -- a request the authority denied.Officials are less familiar with the new group's experience, Willis said.

Members also haven't shared any development plans yet, he said.

"They've been fairly discreet because they've seen what's happened to the other two buyers," Willis said. "I think we'll learn more about that as part of our due process."