A decade-long attempt to put the Port of Port Royal in private hands came closer to fruition Wednesday when the S.C. State Ports Authority accepted a $15.42 million offer from The Furman Co. of Greenville.
The agreement must now be approved by the S.C. Budget and Control Board. A vote is planned for 10 a.m. Nov. 26 in Columbia.
If approved by that agency, The Furman Co. will have 150 days to complete its due diligence and another 30 days to close the deal, board chairman Bill Stern said.
Representatives of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, Port Royal Town Council members, the town manager and residents who made the trip to Wednesday’s meeting in Charleston applauded the vote.
The port has been vacant since 2004, when it was deemed too expensive to operate. The authority was ordered to sell the land, but three attempts since 2006 have fallen through.
Furman president Steve Navarro said in an email shortly after the vote that he was in a meeting and unavailable for comment. However, he issued a news release later in the day that said in part: “Over the next few months we will be actively planning a strategy to determine the property's highest and best use, density and scale, and to analyze its potential for financial success.”
The town’s development agreement with the Ports Authority, finalized in early 2013, includes limits of 425 residences and 250,000 square feet of commercial space.
A shuttered dry stack on London Avenue must be removed within 12 months of the purchase or by the end of the five-year development agreement.
It also includes terms and deadlines for transferring the promenade and two parks to the town. The agreement would provide up to $64,500 in planning and design fees that the authority would reimburse to the town.
Stern said the authority has done its due diligence and The Furman Co. has a strong reputation. He was confident the company would be able to complete the sale and fulfill development plans.
Navarro, along with Jim Chaffin of Chaffin/Light, met with town officials in August about the port. They said they were working together. Chaffin and Navarro had partnered in the spring on a plan to develop the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot into a mixed-use development, but that plan fell apart after public opposition.
The Furman Co. was one of four potential buyers to publicly announce interest in the property. Another, Dick Stewart, is part of a lawsuit alleging the authority has mismanaged the sale and failed to follow the “prudent-man rule,” a common-law concept that requires trustees, such as a state agency, to handle assets as a thrifty person would.
Councilman Joe Lee, who attended the Ports Authority meeting, said he was surprised at the purchase price.
The property’s appraised value remains unclear — the Ports Authority has steadfastly refused to release a reappraisal completed in earlier this year by order of the General Assembly. Spokeswoman Erin Dhand said neither those documents nor the sale agreement would be made public until after the sale concludes.
The property was marketed for $22.5 million after a spring 2013 appraisal. Before that, it was listed for $20.4 million.
A state law passed this past spring required that the property be sold for at least 80 percent of its appraised value, which would suggest the most recent estimate of its value is no less than $19,275,000.
“I thought the appraisal was going to be more,” Lee said after roughly figuring the math.