Fast action and fast talk are powering a proposal to purchase and annex the mostly empty Beaufort Commerce Park through Beaufort City Council.
The plan was approved on first reading Tuesday, just one week after it was first floated publicly. A special meeting has been called for 7 p.m. April 3 to hold a final vote. Rezoning of the property could be approved by the end of April.
Why the hurry?
Mayor Billy Keyserling says haste is essential because he will be out of town in two weeks, and that several businesses are considering the park and "narrowing their options" on where to locate.
But the brinkmanship seems a bit contrived. It's not clear why Keyserling's presence is necessary. Further, he says negotiations have been going on for months. That suggests some flexibility in the timing of their consummation to allow everyone time to catch their breath.
So far, the mayor has declined to identify the companies interested in purchasing commerce park land, which means we don't know who is poised to benefit from the city's spending or what other favors have been promised. Nor do we know how many employees these businesses would hire or how much of the park's available acreage they would occupy -- factors that must be part of the equation to determine whether such haste is necessary.
We've no doubt that Keyserling, the council and the city staff are sincere in their desire to bring prosperity and higher quality jobs, but the mayor's rhetoric on this subject has been less than bankable of late.
Specifically, he asserted in a council workshop two weeks ago that the city has enough money on hand -- just more than $1 million earmarked for land purchases -- to buy the park without impact on local taxes. Now, we learn the purchase will be for about $1.85 million and that bonds likely will be sold to finance it.
Whether a tax hike ensues is immaterial. By spending money on hand, the city is forgoing other possible purchases; by incurring more debt, the city is sacrificing future borrowing capacity. In other words, the taxpayer most certainly will be affected, even if tax rates are not.
The only question is whether anyone will stop long enough to consider or measure that impact.
Neither is likely if the city's zeal to do this deal quickly is informed by Beaufort County's attempt to craft a similar purchase. In the span of one month in early 2011, the county came within one vote of buying the park for $2.5 million from the Lowcountry Economic Network. Fortunately, sobriety prevailed, and the council delayed a final vote for 60 days so that two appraisals of the 165-acre property could be conducted.
Good thing, too, because one pegged the property's present-day value at $2 million and the other at $1.64 million. A purchase would have amounted to little more than a bailout of the network, which, unable to pay its mortgage, dissolved when the county said "no sale."
The city's decision begs for the same sober pace, particularly since the Lowcountry Economic Alliance -- an off-shoot of the network -- apparently has been and would remain integrally involved in recruiting new occupants to the park.
Time, indeed, is of the essence -- it is needed to vet the purchase's economic impact and to ascertain who will profit most from dealings that have been done, so far, in private.
If buying the commerce park is as much a no-brainer as city officials make out, it will withstand the scrutiny. If it is not, the idea deserves to go away.