20 Dec 2016: A Year of Progress in Beaufort
From opening a new fire station to kicking off construction on Boundary Street, opening the long-awaited Southside dog park to launching an incubator for technology companies, progress was the key word for Beaufort in 2016. The overall goal is to create new higher-paying job opportunities and broaden the city’s economic base.
Year-end also saw a packed house of support for a National Park Service Reconstruction Monument designation for critical sites across Beaufort County, including in downtown Beaufort, Port Royal and St. Helena Island.
“After months and sometimes years of planning and review, it was refreshing to be able to open the new fire house on Ribaut Road to improve our fire department’s efficiency. On the other end, in December it was great to see all the families and pets enjoying the dog park,” Beaufort City Manager Bill Prokop said.
“We have another year of work on Boundary Street, but that team has done an exceptional job of keeping the project on track and within budget,” he said. “While that work goes on, our city’s economy has a brighter future with our new incubator partnerships.”
Much of the city’s work in 2016 – and before – has focused on economic revitalization and growth.
The Beaufort Digital Corridor is an offshoot of the successful Charleston Digital Corridor. Located at 500 Carteret Street, the remodeled office space targets small businesses focused on technology.
Another spinoff is the city’s branch of the Don Ryan Center of Innovation, based in Bluffton. The incubator will be housed in the first floor of Beaufort City Hall and will assist non-technology businesses start up.
Both business incubators have ribbon-cuttings scheduled for January and Prokop said he expects both will be busy in short order.
“Between our preserved history and our protected environment, we have the ability to attract small and new businesses, especially those in the knowledge sector,” he said. “Sometimes all they need is a guiding hand to get started, and that’s what the Beaufort Digital Corridor and Don Ryan Center will provide.”
The anticipated opening of the new Walmart within the city limits on Lady’s Island and a new car dealership on Robert Smalls Parkway will bring additional jobs and revenues to the city.
Construction started in early 2016 on the $32 million Boundary Street Improvement Corridor. The work includes moving overhead power and communications cables underground for safety and aesthetics, realigning the Boundary and Robert Smalls Parkway intersection, and improving traffic signal intersections, including a new signal at Carolina Cove.
The Southside dog park, previously used as a water treatment site by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, had been discussed for years by the community and City Council. In 2016, it became reality. And in 2017, we will be installing at 1.2 mile walking trail paid for through grant dollars.
“We had a lot of volunteer help in cleaning up the property, and our Public Works crew did wonderful work removing all the debris and tearing up old asphalt,” said Libby Anderson, planning director for Beaufort. “Open park space is an important part of Beaufort.”
Other highlights for city leaders in 2016 included:
· With partners, expanding the popular Spanish Moss Trail
· Reviewing, once again, parking needs and possible solutions, including a potential parking garage
· Adjusting the city business license ordinance to allow a more streamlined process for group events, and taking payments online for business licenses and the accommodations/hospitality taxes
· Beaufort voters returned incumbent Mike McFee to City Council alongside newcomer and downtown businesswoman Nan Sutton. They join Mayor Billy Keyserling, Phil Cromer and Stephen Murray on Council.
· City leaders joined Congressman Jim Clyburn and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis at historic Brick Baptist Church across from Penn Center for a standing-room only public hearing of major support for a proposed Reconstruction Monument district to recognize local contributions to Reconstruction.
In 2016, the City in Collaboration with USCB Center for the arts hosted the annual meeting of the SC Arts Educators Conference and the SC Humanities Festival, both of which were very successful.
On the tragic side, fire destroyed the Black Chamber of Commerce office building in early November. The structure was nearing completion on Bladen Street. Federal investigators determined the fire was an electrical accident. The BCBC will likely demolish the remains and start anew in 2017. The City will be working with them to complete the project in a timely manner as we want to see them launch the commercial kitchen for teaching and catering, museum space for art exhibits, offices for small businesses and the many services they will be offering the public.
In October, Hurricane Matthew changed the Lowcountry landscape, downing thousands of trees. Homes in Beaufort were damaged and the debris clean-up will continue into 2017, but thankfully no deaths or major injuries were reported from the Category 2 hurricane.
If you want to contribute to Southside Park, improvements to the waterfront and other parks, to make our hometown every better in your you can do so through the City’s “Pride of Place” a program where you can designate your tax deductible contribution specific improvements you would like to see.
We are looking forward to 2017 as we have important projects to complete and others to start as we continue to achieve grant dollars like we have never done in the past.