With monthly cargo record in hand, Port of Charleston looks to set annual mark, sell Port Royal

The State Ports Authority’s Board of Directors agreed Wednesday to sell its Port Royal property in Beaufort County for $15.42 million. The former cargo terminal has about 52 acres of high ground and 265 acres of marsh along Battery Creek.

The State Ports Authority hopes to accomplish two things in the coming fiscal year that it hasn’t been able to do in more than a decade: set an annual record for the number of cargo containers that move through the Port of Charleston and sell its terminal in Beaufort County.

The authority’s Board of Directors took the first step toward both goals Wednesday, approving its financial plan for fiscal 2016 and approving the sale of 52 acres of high ground and 265 acres of marsh along Battery Creek in Port Royal.

The financial plan predicts 1.15 million cargo containers will be loaded onto and off of ships at the port in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That would top the previous record of 1.134 million cargo containers set during the 2005 fiscal year and 7.2 percent more than the current year’s number.

The projected annual record comes on the heels of a monthly record the authority set in May, with 104,003 cargo containers — the largest volume in the authority’s history and a 13.1 percent increase over numbers from a year ago.

“May is our strongest month historically, and I think a lot of the initiatives that we’ve been working on are coming to fruition now,” said Jim Newsome, the authority’s president and CEO. “East Coast volumes are strong, both automotive and growth to and from Asia, so we’ve got to continue that pace. One month doesn’t get us where we need to go. We need to get past our record year in volume. Hopefully, we’ll do that next year and then on from there.”

The authority, which operates seaports in Charleston and Georgetown, and an inland port in Greer, expects operating earnings to top $35.7 million next year, more than 22 percent higher than this year’s earnings.

The number of cruise-ship passengers is expected to increase by 8 percent to 202,300 people due in part to eight additional ship visits. The 97 planned cruise-ship visits are fewer than the 104 maximum allowed under an informal agreement the SPA reached with city officials.

“I’m pleased with where we are and what we’ve done,” Newsome said. “But I keep reminding people we’ve got a long way to go. I’m really optimistic about this market. We’ve got a good operating port that works well. We’ve just got to keep that going.”

The board also agreed to sell its Port Royal property for $15.42 million to Palmetto Alliance Property Group LLC, a corporation that was formed Monday, according to S.C. Secretary of State records. Ken Ormand, the registered agent for the group, declined to comment on its membership or plans. State records show Steve McNair, a Greenville developer, filed paperwork last week to reserve the Palmetto Alliance name. McNair could not be reached for comment. Under state law, LLCs are not required to disclose their membership.

The sale still needs the approval of the state Budget and Control Board. Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand said the board will take up the sale before the scheduled closing in November.

The SPA has been trying to sell the Port Royal site since 2004, when the General Assembly said the small cargo terminal was no longer needed. Four previous sales have fallen through, including the most recent offer by Greenville-based Furman Co. Investment Advisory Service. That company also offered $15.42 million for the site but could not meet deadlines to finalize the purchase.

Under terms of the sale, the buyer’s real estate broker will get $594,000 from the purchase price, leaving the authority a little more than $14.8 million.

The authority has been under the gun to find a buyer because state law called for the Port Royal property to be auctioned after June 30 if no sales contract was pending.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_