2018 shapes up big for Port Royal


Photo above: Port Royal will move the Porter’s Chapel A.M.E. Church from its present location at Old Shell Road and 16th Street to the town’s Naval Heritage Park on Ribaut Road, where it will be restored. The historic building, saved from demolition six months ago, will, in its new location, serve as Port Royal’s hub for the new U.S. Parks Service Reconstruction Monument Heritage Trail. Photo courtesy of the Town of Port Royal.

By Bill Rauch

After 13 years of waiting, Port Royal finally has a port deal, and 2018 is when the town expects to see the long-awaited benefits start to show themselves. The Dockside Restaurant will re-open in June and the town is working with the developers on sidewalk, promenade and Spanish Moss Trail access plans, Town Manager Van Willis says. 

There will be more announcements of plans soon, the town says, improvements that will transform Port Royal’s waterfront into a regional attraction.  

That’s big, but it’s not all.

Beginning Jan. 1, the town’s fire department — which is operated jointly with Beaufort — will expand into a new, temporary firehouse on Robert Smalls Parkway in the old Barrier Island Boat dealership. A new permanent firehouse, a couple of hundred yards down S.C. 170 towards Beaufort from the temporary one, is on the way. The builders poured the concrete for the slab last week. The expected move-in date there is Aug. 1.

Staking its claim to being the primary fire service provider for the newly annexed and developed neighborhoods in the Shell Point to Habersham area, the new station is located almost exactly in the center of the triangle formed by the Burton Fire District’s Shell Point, Habersham and Burton Hill stations.

There’s more.

In the upcoming year the town will also relocate the old Porter’s Chapel A.M.E. Church to the Naval Heritage Park, restore the building and open it as a tribute to the life and legacy of Sen. Clemente Pinckney, who pastored there from 1996-1998.

Sen. Pinckney, who represented portions of Beaufort County in the South Carolina State Senate, was the pastor of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church when he was gunned down with eight of his parishioners in June 2015 by a white supremacist during an evening Bible study session in the sanctuary of the beloved Charleston church.

The restored Porter’s Chapel will also serve as the Port Royal hub of the Beaufort County Reconstruction Monument, the place where Port Royal’s rich Reconstruction history will be told.

That’s big too, but there’s still more.

Since there’s more and more sizzle each year in the town, the once-sleepy burg now needs public parking. So the town’s FY’18 budget indicates next year Port Royal will spend upwards of a million dollars providing for public parking. 

With the town’s growing Soft Shell Crab, Oktoberfest, Street Music, Farmer’s Market and Christmas events, that will be barely enough to accommodate the growing crowds.

Yes, the town is on the traffic control job too. Their engineers are working with the county to smooth out the right turn lane from Ribaut Road onto the McTeer Bridge.

But the big picture issue — the third crossing of the Beaufort River — remains unaddressed by Beaufort County, the City of Beaufort and the Town of Port Royal. Until it is, through traffic on Ribaut Road in Port Royal, and on Boundary Street, Carteret Street and Ribaut Road in Beaufort will become only more burdensome. 

At this writing the three governments don’t even have an agreed-upon plan for addressing their relentlessly growing traffic needs. That’s not Port Royal’s fault. It’s Beaufort that’s been equivocating while Beaufort and Port Royal’s transportation money gets spent in Bluffton.

Why? One of the more influential ole boys on City Council, it is said, has friends who live along the proposed Brickyard corridor, and they wish not to see it improved.

Workforce housing’s on the town’s plate too.

Port Royal has recently participated in several tax credit apartment building projects in Shell Point and along Ribaut Road, pretty much maxing out their ability to use that funding mechanism again for several years. 

When the 25 units in the Marsh Pointe Apartments that are now under construction across Ribaut Road from the Naval Heritage Park are completed, the town will have in the last few years participated in the completion of about 250 units of workforce housing.

And that’s just the beginning of the residential building in what has become one of the South’s most dynamic small towns … a small town that’s not so small any more.

Next year will probably see yet another milestone for the town. Although it may take until 2020 for the numbers to be formalized by the U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 will probably be the year when little Port Royal’s population exceeds that of the City of Beaufort, the town’s longtime big next door neighbor.

The two municipalities plan together and fight fires together now. In 2018 they should take another look at the benefits to their taxpayers of consolidating other services, especially, for starters, solid waste collection, recycling and parks maintenance.

The obvious benefit of the two municipalities now being about the same size is that no longer is one the other’s big brother. If the two can find ways to contain their egos, climb out of the weeds, think ahead, quit worrying about whether their friends are benefiting enough or not, and work together as equals, there could be big benefits in the years ahead for both municipalities’ taxpayers.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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