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Editorial: Lease holds key to Shem Creek's future. Mount Pleasant has to get it right

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dock Tarvin Seafood.jpg (copy)

Mount Pleasant is soliciting bids for a lessee to operate the Wando dock on Shem Creek. The town bought the property in January and is looking for someone to run the waterfront seafood business, one of a few left. Above, fishing boats and shrimp trawlers at the docks on March 22, 2019. Wade Spees/Staff

Who can make a go of the Wando Dock on Shem Creek? That’s a good question with the town Mount Pleasant now soliciting bids for leasing and operating the longtime home base for area shrimpers.

The request for proposals stipulates the lessee, who will be responsible for collecting dockage fees, will need to have at least three years’ experience managing a waterfront operation, be a certified seafood handler and open his or her books for auditing. So it’ll take more than a Bubba Gump.

Though the docks have been repaired, the ideal bidder will need the capital to help rebuild the local fishing industry from the bottom up. That’ll mean attracting more commercial fishermen, increasing processing capacity and developing fresh seafood markets.

So it will take an unusual mix of skills: someone who understands fishermen and can provide them with what they need, and who can expand markets for local seafood. That might be hard to find in a single person, especially by the Nov. 25 due date for proposals.

Wisely, town Administrator Eric DeMoura hasn’t ruled out extending the deadline. It may well require a consortium to tie together various aspects of the business. Certainly, Shem Creek shrimpers should be involved, but it’s unclear if any have the resources to take over the entire operation.

The current operator, Tarvin Seafood, is expected to submit a bid, but no proposals were received the week after bidding opened quietly on Nov. 1. The lease would be for three years, with an option to renew for two more. Subleases would be permitted.

Any successful bidder must come up with a dock rental rate that will satisfy both the shrimpers and the town, which paid $4.35 million for the property in January. That will be tough because the request for proposals says any bid for the property can’t significantly undercut the competition on Shem Creek.

The property at 102 Haddrell St., zoned light industrial, includes enough dock space for three or four big trawlers at a time, and there’s dock space available across the creek. The roughly 1 acre of high ground includes a seafood processing warehouse with an ice machine and a cooler for storing seafood.

Ideally, there would be a wholesale market, a storefront operation and refrigerated trucks for delivering seafood to restaurants. Initially, all buildings would be limited to a total of about 5,000 square feet. While the town would provide fire and flood insurance, the lessee would be required to have marine, general liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

The town plans to have a selection committee pick the top three bidders, then interview each before awarding a lease.

We hope someone with the skills and resources to redevelop the property has been putting together a business plan and assembling a team to execute it. But if an eminently qualified lessee doesn’t emerge by Nov. 25, the town should extend the bidding process.

The town of Mount Pleasant cares a great deal about preserving Shem Creek as a working waterfront. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have bought the Wando dock. Now comes the tricky part — finding the right person to run it. The town shouldn’t rush the process or settle for second-best.

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