Beaufort News

Port of Port Royal development plans unlikely before sale closes

The Port of Port Royal as seen from the Port Royal Shrimp Docks on July 3, 2015.
The Port of Port Royal as seen from the Port Royal Shrimp Docks on July 3, 2015. dearley@beaufortgazette.com

The prospective buyers of the Port of Port Royal will probably have to close the sale before bringing development plans or possible changes to development agreements before the town of Port Royal.

Whit Suber, a real estate broker and consultant for Palmetto Alliance Property Group, said the developers under contract to buy the 317-acre property will probably have to close the sale and trust the town will work with them on future plans afterward. The sale has to close by the end of the year, according to state law.

A change to the development agreement would require two town council meetings and changes to the planned unit development require review by the Metropolitan Planning Commission and then council approval.

Port Royal town manager Van Willis said there is little likelihood changes could be approved before the required closing.

"If everything went absolutely smoothly, that would be the only way it could be done by the end of the calendar year," Willis said. "But normally these things take a little more time to negotiate."

Town council members had called on the property group to go public with any plans or proposed changes to the planned unit development or development agreement. Suber said the buyers are for the most part willing to work within the framework of what was in place.

He said he understands people in the town wanting to see something tangible, but that the development's look will ultimately be shaped by demand, not drawings.

"One thing everybody locally should be plenty satisfied of is that over the past dozen years, they have all the drawings to look at that they would care to look at, but no closings," Suber said. "And we're focusing on closing it."

The Ports Authority accepted Palmetto Alliance's $15.42 million offer in June. The property group, which includes Columbia developer Steve McNair, has through the end of the month for due diligence before having to decide whether to put money down.

The property, a little more than 50 acres of which is suitable for development, must sell by the end of the year or be transferred to the state's General Services Division for auction. A new appraisal would be conducted and the property required to sell for at least 80 percent of that appraised value.

Suber said a meeting last week between the potential buyers and S.C. Ports Authority representatives left him optimistic the sale would close,. He said chances of closing were about 70 percent.

One possible looming standoff between the town and developers seems to be the drystack storage building at the end of London Avenue.

The development agreement calls for the drystack to be torn down within a year of the sale. The prospective buyers hope to keep the building in place and dress up the structure to soften the appearance.

Council members have said the developers might also be looking at building height and density requirements.

Suber said the buyers have experience a some setbacks, including the July fire that burned the town's seafood market and led to Dockside restaurant closing. He said the group has also faced challenges trying to work with developers who have "deal fatigue" and assume the property will go to auction.

The group's objective has been to sell the idea of developing the property under a cohesive plan rather than to roll the dice at auction, he said.

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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