By Bill Rauch
As the demolition stage of the city’s Boundary Street Project gets under way I am reminded of two long-ago city planning proposals, one at each end of the project.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Visitors Center is currently operating out of The Arsenal at Craven and Carteret Streets. While The Arsenal is unquestionably an attractive, historic and charming building, and while the price may be right for the moment, The Arsenal clearly isn’t where the Visitors Center should be forever. A Visitors Center should be easily accessible, and essential to that is that perking should be plentiful. We all know, and the Chamber’s Tourism Vice President, Rob Wells, confirms parking is “not easy” at Craven and Carteret Streets. Set aside for the city’s visitors are just eight 90 minute metered spaces, if visitors can find them there at all.
The Visitor’s Center should be on the near right corner for incoming motorists of the new intersection that is being created at SC 170 and Boundary Street. This is the land that is currently largely occupied by SC 170, but the Boundary Street Plan calls for that transportation corridor to be moved when the new intersection is created.
Day-trippers coming to Beaufort from north of Whale Branch or from south of the Broad River would find this location on their right side as they first approach Beaufort. There will be about three quarters of an acre of land freed up there, enough for a comfortable visitors center, plenty of parking and probably some retail too. Moreover, motorized coach tours could stage from there, lifting the park and transfer load somewhat from the marina parking lot where walking and horse-drawn tours necessarily stage.
After kicking over the past decade the Visitor’s Center from Bellamy Curve, to the Quality Inn to The Arsenal, do the city’s planners really think they’ve got it right? I hope not.
If the City Council is serious about protecting and growing the City’s tourism base, and they say they are, they should revisit this proposal.
At the other end of the corridor to be improved the old Piggly Wiggly building sits empty. Housed here in a new office building is where the Beaufort County Board of Education’s district offices should be. When the City of Beaufort moved City Hall out to its present location on Ribaut Road and Boundary Street it did so because Beaufort County’s offices would then be next door. It did so expressly to create a “civic center” in that area.
In the years before the move the city and the county had been engaged in a number of lawsuits against one another. They fought over money, power and prerogative. Lost on the city‘s leadership in those days was that Beaufort County is a major employer of city residents. But that was long ago and those divisions have now been largely mended.
But what about another major employer of city residents, The Beaufort County Board of Education? Their District Office has been moved from Prince Street in downtown Beaufort out to the old Battery Creek High School at Mink Point Boulevard. No, they have no present plans to move again, according to their spokesperson, Jim Foster.
However, looking ahead, it’s important to understand that the Mink Point building also houses the District’s alternative middle school and high school, the Right Choice School that features small class sizes. These are successful, and growing, schools. Where, down the line as the schools grow, does that leave the District Office? Up for grabs.
If the City of Beaufort is committed to good planning and economic development, and they say they are, then they better be keeping their eye on this situation too because it becomes more fluid with each Right Choice School enrollment period.
Moreover, city planners know that county seats that incorporate civic centers serve the taxpayers because finding the right government office which is never easy, is more convenient, and because governments who are neighbors comport themselves to one another in more neighborly fashions, and this too serves the taxpayers.
If the City Council is serious about protecting Beaufort’s status as Beaufort County’s county seat, and from an economic development perspective they better be, then they should revisit this proposal as well.