Can Whitehall be saved for future generations’ enjoyment?

By Jim Hicks

Is there any way that the waterfront portion of the Whitehall property could be secured for public use? This is the question that was posed recently by a group of individuals interested in finding a way to allow the waterfront portion of the property to remain accessible to the present and future members of the public. This is a popular objective and one which would merit the support of both the residents of Lady’s Island and the City of Beaufort. The tough part is the finding a realistic way to finance such a project.

Certainly, we could do nothing and hope that a very generous and wealthy benefactor would appear on the scene, purchase the property and maintain it in its present undeveloped status available for public use. As great as that would be, the simple truth is that it is not going to happen. The property is presently in a foreclosed status and owned by a bank.  It is listed on the market with an asking price of $10.5 million. To provide the basic infrastructure necessary for development could cost in the neighborhood of another $3 million. To make the development of the property a profitable venture will require intense development. For example, a previous owner of the property planned to build 45 single family homes, 125 condominiums, a hotel and a variety of commercial buildings. It would appear there are only two alternatives to development of the Whitehall property.  Either allow the property to be developed in such a manner as to make the project economically viable or come up with some form of public-private venture which would retain the waterfront portion for public use.

In regard to a public-private venture the first vehicle which comes to mind for generating public funds for such a venture is the Tax Increment Finance District (TIF). TIF’s capture the future gains in tax revenues which are generated by growth in the tax base of a designated area. The Lady’s Island Village Center established one of the first TIF Districts in Beaufort County in 2000. However, at the end of 5 years there was insufficient growth to generate a significant amount of funds and the TIF was allowed to expire.  An alternate method of establishing a public private venture for the Whitehall property could be the purchase of the property by a private developer who was willing to sell a portion of the waterfront property for development into a passive type of park. For example, the Open Land Trust or the Rural and Critical Land Program might purchase the actual property, followed by development of the land by the City of Beaufort and with the financial help of Beaufort County, transforming it into a passive park similar to the present Waterfront Park.

For the waterfront portion of the Whitehall property to become a passive park could be a win for all concerned (developer, City of Beaufort, Beaufort County and Lady’s Island). For such a thing to actually happen would require the stars to align exactly right and an almost unprecedented degree of cooperation, between a developer and a wide variety of organizations and governments. But wouldn’t it be great if future generations could continue to enjoy a portion of the Whitehall property as a passive park. If given such an opportunity in the future, should we not at least give it a try?

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