Lois Jenkins grew up in the Northwest Quadrant and can tell you the history of about just about every building there. She remembers when a grocery store sat on every other corner and little shops and restaurants spotted the neighborhood.
The local businesses provided convenience and a sense of community, she said. So she supports a proposal by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce to build a much larger center at 711 Bladen St., one with room for a business incubator and other programs.
"Momma would say, 'Run to the store and get such and such,' " she said. "You can't do that. There's nothing like it used to be. So maybe this will bring some kind of life or something."
Jenkins was one of about half a dozen who attended a public hearing Thursday at the chamber's current office, across the road from the proposed building. The chamber rents the 2,300 square-foot building.
The plan is to knock down the abandoned service station-turned liquor store and build a 13,000 square-foot structure, president Larry Holman said. The project would cost about $1.3 million and be funded through a government loan at 2 percent interest.
Small and start-up minority businesses would rent space in the incubator to help pay for the building, he said.
"Acquisition and development of this property, as well as other activities, will position this area for a resumption of economic progress and restore confidence in the neighborhood's future," Holman said.
The chamber is working from a 2006 plan that received initial approval from Beaufort City Council, Holman said. A May 10 letter from city Planning Director Libby Anderson states the city supports the plan, which could be a "catalyst for needed development."
"It's a source of bringing in some diversity, of bringing some life back into city of Beaufort," Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said at the hearing. "As you can see right now, everything is going to the outskirts. If you look at the inner core of Beaufort there's nothing. Other than some professional offices, there's nothing in the core."
"It's churches, graveyards and parking lots," resident Alice Washington added.
Besides the incubator, residents would have access to financial and business experts, training programs, a gallery for local black artists and a commercial kitchen, Holman said.
If the loan is in place by the end of the year, construction could begin in early 2012, he added.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.
- Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce
- Black chamber seeks input on building proposal, Sept. 25, 2011
- Black Chamber networking event planned, Aug. 31, 2011