Beaufort to get New Conference Center


303 Associates to build marsh-side meeting center near Beaufort Town Center

April 5, 2008

By BRANDON HONIG- Beaufort Gazette

Beaufort developer 303 Associates is planning a 29,000-square-foot meeting facility for its Beaufort Town Center north of Boundary Street, which would eliminate the need for a civic meeting center, but the city is still looking to acquire property on Greenlawn Drive for a performing arts center.

Dick Stewart, principal of 303 Associates, said Friday that his company hopes to open a two-story meeting center in 2011 that would accommodate up to 850 people for meetings or 500 people for formal dining. The facility would be sited between the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn and the Inn at Town Center, which is expected to open in May, and overlook the marshes of Albergotti Creek.

The city of Beaufort has been eyeing the Marsh Pointe affordable housing complex on Greenlawn Drive as a possible site for a city-owned meeting center and performing arts center. Mayor Bill Rauch said Saturday that 303 Associates’ plans eliminate the need for a civic meeting center, but the city is still interested in Marsh Pointe for an arts center.

“It had been that the government was going to shoulder the load on a meeting center at the end of Greenlawn, but if that’s not necessary — if the private sector’s going to build something — we are absolutely obliged to step aside,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we would end activities (on Greenlawn), because we are still in need of a performing arts center.”

The city applied earlier this year for a $150,000 state grant to study the feasibility of building performing arts and meeting centers on Greenlawn. A decision on the grant is expected in June.

The city also hired The Barner Group of Aiken to coordinate the relocation of 26 families living in Marsh Pointe, which is owned and operated by the Beaufort Housing Authority. Once a relocation plan has been completed, the city may seek to acquire the 4-acre site from the housing authority.

Rauch said Barner has met with each of the 26 families to determine their needs and is making progress toward a relocation plan that would include turning many of the families from renters into homeowners.

“In many cases, we can get them into their own house,” he said. “It’d be just like a Habitat for Humanity house — the housing authority builds them a house, and instead of being a tenant, they would get their own house.”

Rauch said two families at Marsh Pointe have children with disabilities, and it should be relatively easy to acquire state or federal money to build them new homes. In addition, a “substantial number” of other families could receive their own homes.

Because of the need to acquire land and relocate families from Greenlawn, Stewart said he thought his meeting center could open seven or eight years earlier than a civic meeting center.

He also said building his facility would cost about $12 million less than a civic facility, largely because it could utilize the neighboring hotels’ parking lots instead of building a new parking lot. Building the facility at Marsh Pointe would also require acquiring more land for a new road and stormwater drainage system, Stewart said.

He added that the Hilton Garden Inn and 303 Associates’ two hotels, the Inn at Town Center and The Beaufort Inn, have agreed to contribute $1 toward the new meeting center for each night that someone spends at those hotels. Additional money for the project will be sought from the city, county and state.

Rauch said meeting centers are not generally very profitable, but all the hotels in the area would benefit from one.

“It’s a community amenity that brings people to town and brings economic vitality, but the building itself is not a big money maker,” he said. “People don’t pay lots of money to have meetings, but once they’re in town, they take hotel rooms and go to dinner and buy stuff.”

Stewart estimated the meeting center would generate between $200,000 and $400,000 in annual city taxes on meals and hotel stays.

To avoid concerns about the meeting center favoring certain hotels, Rauch said an independent manager, such as a convention and visitor’s bureau, might need to be set up, but Stewart said it’s too early to predict who would manage the center.


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