Beaufort day dock project presented to City Council

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With a federal grant covering most of the costs, a day dock in downtown Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is closer to construction with the goals of increasing boater access to downtown shops and restaurants.

Engineer David McSweeny presented initial design ideas to the Beaufort City Council recently during a work session.

“There’s a large element in the public that’s been waiting to see this happen,” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said at the meeting. “I don’t want to see us slip backwards” with endless debate about where along the almost 1,000-foot seawall to build the day dock.

While no formal action is taken during City Council work sessions, Keyserling asked City Manager Bill Prokop to prepare recommendations on next steps, including siting, for the July 28 meeting.

Several people spoke in favor of building the 200-foot by 10-foot structure at the east end of the park, near the playground, public restroom and parking. Mike Sutton, a former Beaufort City Councilman, said having a day dock there wouldn’t block views of the river, would be convenient to amenities and is closest to the core commercial district and restaurants.

To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, there will be an 80-foot ramp leading from the seawall to the floating day dock.

Conversation touched briefly on whether the day dock should be built at the western end of the seawall, near the Waterfront Park pavilion and the Downtown Marina. While water is deepest there, the current also runs strong—plus it’s the favored docking site for cruise ships that ply the Intracoastal Waterway, noted Rick Griffin, who manages the Beaufort Downtown Marina.

A federal Boating Infrastructure Grant awarded to the city in February will help fund the project’s cost, McSweeny said. The day dock is a focal point of Beaufort’s Civic Master Plan. It will serve day-use boaters who could enjoy the park and patronize adjacent downtown businesses through this facility.

“Right now, there’s no safe way for me to take people on my boat to go downtown for cocktails and dinner, because there’s no place to tie up my boat,” Sutton said. He pointed to the hundreds of boaters in Beaufort, Lady’s Island, Dataw and surrounding areas who are potential downtown customers if access from the river can be arranged.

The City of Beaufort, through a series of other grant and local funding sources, has set aside $300,000 toward the $500,000 budgeted project, said Kathy Todd, finance director for the city. In addition, the City has welcomed two public partners: Main Street Beaufort and Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. These partners pledged a combined $22,368 toward actively marketing the day dock to transient boaters on a local, regional and national scale. The Downtown Marina has emerged as the largest market opportunity for improving revenue from tourism. Transient boaters represent a demographic of above-average disposable income and are a substantial opportunity for economic development in Beaufort’s core commercial area. Dozier’s Waterway Guide, an authoritative annual publication for Intracoastal Waterway boaters, estimates the typical transient boater has an above average income and eats in restaurants 33 percent of the time they are boating. Environmental impacts are minimized by not offering fueling and pump out services at the day dock and by incorporating solar lighting.