A year after the last purchase attempt failed, the Port of Port Royal property continues to sit vacant with no immediate plans for development. But one of the brokers for the property says interest in the $22.5 million, 317-acre site is picking up. Several interested parties have visited in the past month, most recently on Friday, said Rob Lapin of NAI Avant, which is marketing the property for the owner, the S.C. State Ports Authority.
"I am cautiously optimistic we will have something put together in the near future," Lapin said. "We are seeing more activity, and when I see that, generally, good things happen."
Officials and residents have hoped for a sale and subsequent development that would spur the economy downtown since the property — which has 52 acres that can be built upon — was ordered to be sold in 2006. "We've been through three canceled contracts," town manager Van Willis said. "I’d like to actually see money exchange hands."
The port has been closed since 2004, when the ports authority deemed it too expensive to operate. Since 2006, three different developers have tried to buy it for commercial and residential development. The last attempt was declared unsuccessful Sept. 12, 2012, after Port Royal Redevelopment Group failed to secure financing.
"We’ve been careful every time, but it seems like circumstances come up that we can’t control," Lapin said. Lapin said the Port Royal Redevelopment Group remains interested, but no new formal proposals have emerged. The other interested groups are mostly regional, and one is from the West Coast. He did not name the interested parties.
"Generally, in the past, we’ve had people interested more in the water feature aspect of it," he said, indicating the marina area at the southern end of the property. "... The last couple of inquiries we’ve had have been more interested in the bluff neighborhood, Ribaut Village component, the residential part.” The asking price for the property remains $22.5 million, based on an appraisal earlier this year. It was previously listed at $20.4 million, and the most recent sale attempt was for $17 million. Without a contract in sight, the town is looking beyond the port.
"We've somewhat moved on, in terms of recognizing we have to do something with the rest of the town and marketing and branding," Willis, the town manager, said. Officials are also trying to get started on boardwalk improvements. An agreement struck with the Ports Authority last winter allows the town access to the property to extend and repair the boardwalk, which will connect to a promenade proposed for the length of the property. The town has a $180,000 state grant to begin the work, which it would match. The ports authority “is working with the town to assure the grant for adding to the waterfront boardwalk is fully realized,” authority spokeswoman Allison Skipper said. However, Willis said the authority is concerned about the public having access to the property from the boardwalk and is requesting changes to the plans. A scaled-down plan under consideration would include a fishing pier and small park, at a cost of $200,000 to $250,000, Willis said.