County right to hold off vote on commerce park

Beaufort County Council had little choice but to send back to committee the issue of buying the Beaufort Commerce Park if it wanted to maintain any credibility on the subject.

The two appraisals it sought came in significantly lower than the $2.5 million it had already voted to pay for the failing industrial park. And council members have not taken up as a group the details of those two appraisals.

Discussion of the appraisals now goes to the Governmental Committee, led by Councilman Jerry Stewart, who also is chairman of the board of the Lowcountry Economic Network, the group trying to unload the park on the county.

The network faces foreclosure on the park for the $2.58 million -- and counting -- that it owes. It bought the property in 2006 for $2.9 million. If the property goes to public auction and it doesn't bring in as much as owed, the network also might have to make up the difference. That would shut down the network, its executive director says. (The network has asked its lenders to drop the deficiency judgment request, but hadn't received an answer as of last report.)

Even if true, that should not affect County Council's weighing of whether to buy the commerce park. The fate of the organization and the fate of the industrial park should be kept separate.

The Governmental Committee's purview includes economic development, but the council's Finance Committee also seems an appropriate venue for reviewing the appraisals. A joint committee meeting might be in order.

The council also would do well to start over the ordinance process to buy the property if it chooses to offer less than $2.5 million. That's a substantive change that should restart the ordinance clock.

But we're not convinced this deal makes sense even at a lower price. A pitch to the county to buy this property has been that public ownership would allow acreage to be given away or offered at a discounted rate to businesses looking to locate here.

If that doesn't work to lure businesses to the park, the county will have paid $1.6 million to $2 million (assuming the council thinks the appraisals are close to the mark) for property that has struggled under private ownership for many years. And it should be noted that the appraisal values are based on future sales of the property. So the county would pay a price based on future sales and then give the land away or discount it -- all in the hopes a business would choose that location.

The property's track record indicates this is the wrong place for an industrial park, no matter the cost of the land.

Still out there is a task force charged with reviewing the county's economic development efforts. That review should include whether the county should own this industrial park or any park.

The network shouldn't have bought the property in 2006. We've seen nothing so far to suggest the county should do so in 2011.