BEAUFORT -- Gov. Mark Sanford says details of a pending $16.75 million contract for the Port of Port Royal might not be in the best long-term interest of the town or the State Ports Authority, which is trying to sell the 51-acre property along Battery Creek.
Town of Port Royal and SPA officials disagreed and reiterated their confidence in the deal and the potential buyer's plan for the property.
The contract splits the sale into two, $8.375 million phases -- the first for property along deep water, and the second for marshfront and interior land, Sanford and Port Royal Town Councilman Joe Lee said this week.
As proposed, the prospective buyer could develop the "valuable deep water" property and be allowed to opt out of the second phase, leaving the state with the rest, Sanford said.
"It is arguably a one-sided deal in its new form," Sanford said.
SPA Chairman Bill Stern said he is confident about the contract, which would require the developer to pay a $250,000 deposit and agree to build infrastructure that would benefit the second phase. If the buyer opts out of phase two, he would lose the deposit and infrastructure investment, Stern said.
"This developer came to us, and we got creative to try and structure a sale," Stern said. "I'm very comfortable with the contract."
Officials have declined to name the Charleston developer, citing ongoing negotiations. The Post and Courier has learned the prospective buyer is affiliated with Ben Gramling of Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development, which is spearheading the Cane Bay Plantation project in Berkeley County.
The governor sits on the five-member S.C. Budget and Control Board, which must approve the deal before it can move forward.
The board was scheduled to consider it Tuesday. That meeting was pushed back to Thursday, then postponed again to the week of June 28. Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, a board member, requested the most recent delay because the Senate was in session Thursday.
Stern said he didn't speak to the prospective buyer Thursday, but added that "there have been many questions on how fast the parties could get the contract signed."
"I think we'll start sensing frustration as the comments the governor made come forward," Stern said. "Especially dealing with the state of South Carolina, you don't want to go into a process where high officials are taking shots at you."
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, a real estate attorney who has followed the port sale closely, said Sanford's questions are "a legitimate amount of inquiry by someone who's called to review a contract." Davis added that based on his preliminary review of an appraisal commissioned by the Ports Authority, the properties in the first and second phases appear to be of equal value.
A 2006 development agreement created for the property calls for about 12.8 acres of dedicated civic open space -- about 10.6 acres of which would be a park at the end of London Avenue overlooking Battery Creek.
The potential buyer, however, wants to deviate from the original agreement and build houses on that property, Sanford said. One of the greatest long-term values on South Carolina's coast is public access to the water, he said, adding that the port's development offers a "once in a generation opportunity."
"We've been absolutely consistent in believing in the need for open space and access to the water by regular working families, whether they're from Burton, Port Royal, you name it, for eight years," Sanford said. "The newest developer has come up with a plan that doesn't contemplate public access to the water."
Van Willis, Port Royal's town manager, disagreed. The developer's proposed plans include a walkway along the water's edge, a one-acre park near the end of Paris Avenue and a half-acre of open space overlooking water in the bluff neighborhood, he said. He added the original plan created by Port Royal citizens didn't include a 10-acre park.
"That was added at the request of Governor Sanford," he said.
Requiring the park could potentially kill the deal, Willis said.
In a town of about 8,000 people with a budget of about $4.6 million, Port Royal can't afford to maintain a total of 20 acres of open space that are not on the tax rolls, he added.
State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who has followed the sale closely, said she thinks decisions about the site's design should be up to the town, the developer and the people of Port Royal.
Erickson said she doesn't think a park should be "foisted upon" the town, which would have to pay to maintain it.
Any change to the existing development agreement would have to be approved by the Port Royal Town Council through two readings and a public hearing. The Ports Authority would also have to approve any changes, Stern said.
"I don't understand how this doesn't make good business sense not to move this forward," Stern said. "We are going to be given the chance to see the changes they want to make."
Efforts to sell the port date to 2004, when Sanford ordered it closed and sold. The shuttered property runs along Battery Creek amid acres of marshland. At least one deal with a group of investors fell through in 2008.
The Post and Courier and Josh McCann of the Island Packet contributed to this report.