STATE REPORT: Port Royal purchase deal advances

The latest proposed buyer of the shuttered Port Royal terminal (above) previously was involved in the development of nearby Fripp Island, town officials said.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- Port Royal officials are optimistic that a deal to sell the closed state-owned marine terminal in the town will go through after the two previous attempts to secure buyers for the 51-acre property fell through.

A development group's offer to buy the former Port of Port Royal near Beaufort advanced last week when the S.C. Budget and Control Board approved the deal.

The board, which voted 5-0 for the $17 million sale, identified the prospective buyer as the Port Royal Redevelopment Group.

Registered to Sam Thurman Jr. at 1115 Paris Ave., the company will have a 90-day due-diligence and inspection period before the sale can close.

The S.C. State Ports Authority approved the deal last month.

Thurman could not be reached for comment.

A town press release said the company's principals have more than 30 years of real estate and development experience, including the development of nearby Fripp Island from 1990 through 2001.

Port Royal town manager Van Willis called the deal "a great opportunity for all of Port Royal."

"This has been a long time coming," Willis said. "We believe Port Royal Redevelopment Group will be good stewards of this property, and we're excited to see what this will mean for the town of Port Royal, its residents and businesses."

Unlike previous would-be buyers, who worked almost exclusively with the SPA, the development group is working closely with the town, too, Mayor Sam Murray said.

The company's lender has issued a "loan commitment letter," and the SPA is satisfied the buyer is qualified and financially able to complete the purchase, according to budget board documents.

The company has deposited $50,000 in refundable earnest money, will deposit an additional $150,000 after Tuesday's vote and can extend the due-diligence period by 30 days for $75,000 more, according to the documents.

The town's news release said the redevelopment on Battery Creek would include a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The budget board's documents included a map of a "Marina Village & Town Park" that shows a waterfront commercial village along the existing dock building, a waterfront park near the end of Paris Avenue, a Harbour Master Cottage Park near a realigned London Avenue, and a 9.8-acre municipal park along Sands Beach Road with a streetscape of angled parking.

During the due-diligence period, the town and developers plan to amend the town's planned-unit development ordinance for the property and draft a new development agreement, according to the town's release.

The current development agreement is set to expire next year.

Willis said those changes would be minor. "What (the developers) intend to do mirrors pretty closely what the town wants," he said.

The authority operated a small port on the land from 1958 through 2004, when it closed at the urging of then-Gov. Mark Sanford.

Efforts to sell the property have included a group of Hilton Head Island investors that tried to get financing for the parcel in 2007, but the deal fell apart in 2008.

Earlier this year, Charleston-based Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development backed away from a pending $16.75 million contract after reaching this point in the process.

Gramling Brothers had concerns about title issues on several smaller pieces of property within the larger tract and restrictions on a more than 200-slip marina, town and authority officials said at the time.

Gramling Brothers requested more time to work through those issues before making a scheduled $50,000 deposit, a request the authority denied.

The company had also sought to eliminate a 10-acre waterfront park planned at the end of London Avenue, putting homes there instead. Sanford and many residents opposed the idea.

Unlike the budget board's meeting to approve the Gramling Brothers sale, which was "very involved" and "somewhat heated," Tuesday's decision took less than a minute, Willis said.