South Carolina forcing sale of Port Royal site

The ports authority seeks a buyer for its roughly 300-acre Port Royal site, formerly used for port operations. (Photo/Phil Alling)
The S.C. State Ports Authority has been seeking a buyer for its roughly 300-acre Port Royal site for several years. Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill this week to either force the sale or have the property sold at auction by the state. (Photo/Phil Alling)

By Liz Segrist
Published June, 3 2014

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley signed legislation Tuesday that requires the S.C. State Ports Authority to sell its 317-acre Port Royal site by the end of June 2015.

If the ports authority doesn’t find a buyer by that time, it has to give the Beaufort County site to the state Division of General Services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, according to the law sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.

If a sale is pending by the deadline, the legislation allots a 120-day grace period to close the deal.

The ports authority has been trying to sell its closed operations in Beaufort County for nearly a decade. The site, a small port operation that opened in the 1950s, has been sitting idle since the mid-2000s after Mark Sanford’s administration told the port to close operations there.

A small group of Port Royal residents started “Sell It Now,” an effort to promote the sale of the site to the town for redevelopment. (Photo/Phil Alling)
A small group of Port Royal residents started “Sell It Now,” an effort to promote the sale of the site to the town for redevelopment. (Photo/Phil Alling)
The port has come close to selling the property several times, including a signed resolution to sell the property for $17 million in 2011 to an unnamed buyer. But the deals have always fallen apart at some point before closing.

Most recently, the ports authority has been considering selling the site to the town of Port Royal, as well as some other potential buyers.

“We are still seeking a buyer and this legislation supports our efforts to do that,” ports authority spokeswoman Erin Pabst said. “We will continue to work with the town to find a competitive buyer.”

Judy Alling, a Port Royal resident, said she bought a home near the port site in 2006 in anticipation of it becoming a hub for residents, tourists and businesses. Eight years later, she’s disappointed to see the site “still sits with empty buildings and chain-link fences.”

Alling worked with a small group of residents to start Sell It Now, a grassroots effort that promotes the sale of the site to the town. The Sell It Now petition has more than 600 signatures.

“We want it sold, and we want work to begin,” Alling said. “It’s a blighted area that could mean so much for our town if it’s redeveloped.”

Port Royal officials have been attending the ports authority board meetings in downtown Charleston for several months. Mayor Samuel Murray said the town is considering buying the property and creating a mixed-use development with single-family housing, a marina and commercial space with offices, hotels and a convention center.

The town hopes a revamped site could bring new residents and businesses to town, as well as promote tourism in the area.

Murray said the town is deciding how to pay for the site, which is listed for sale for $22.5 million. It has roughly 60 developable acres, board chairman Bill Stern said previously.

Alling and resident Anna Ellerbe came to the ports authority board meeting last month to voice their concerns. They were sporting “Sell It Now” t-shirts that showed a photo of the current site and a rendering of what it could look like.

“This all started with five us sitting in a living room talking about what we could do to fix the site. We wanted our voices heard so we came here,” Ellerbe said. “We are children of the 70s, so we are not going anywhere. We will stick with it.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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