So … uh … what’s the plan, Beaufort?

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

Photo above: The top of page 8 of Beaufort’s 1959 Annual Report shows the initial concept drawing of what would later become the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. On the right are the municipal accomplishments the group wanted emphasized.

By Bill Rauch

Contemplating a new year and new beginnings, as we do this week, gives rise to recalling times past.

In my estimation the most forward-thinking Beaufort City Council of the past century was the 1958-59 group that was led by Mayor Angus Fordham. The other four were banker and Mayor pro tem (later mayor) F.W. (“Willie”) Scheper III, pharmacist Charles Aimar, and Bay Street retailers D.L. Koth and Meyer Schein. Uniquely, and to their credit, the group published an “Annual Report,” that was distributed in the April 30, 1959, Beaufort Gazette.

These guys had their act together.

Saying “Today’s Dreams are Tomorrow’s Realities,” their report called for, among other civic improvements:

• The construction of a municipal sewer system that they got right on and opened soon after on the Waddell Gardens parcel where the city’s beleaguered Southside Park stands now;

• An improved waterfront that 15 years after they called for it became the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park;

• “Improved Municipal Docking Facilities” that would become the downtown marina;

• A street sweeper that wouldn’t finally be purchased until 2001;

• And “construction of a modern City Hall” that would finally be brought online almost exactly 50 years after they called for it.

Compare this to the current group’s long-term planning efforts. The most recent plan that is published on the city’s website is the now-discredited five-year-old Civic Master Plan that is actually little more than a proposed future zoning map.

But where’s the plan for how the new Boundary Street will be marketed and should develop once the construction is complete? There’s precious little about that in the original Boundary Street Plan.

The 1959 group, their annual report shows, had an Annexation Committee comprised of five civic leaders, two of whom were sitting city council members. The present group acts like “annexation” is a dirty word. Bluffton and Hilton Head each have their current strategic plans up on their websites. Both are actively growing, or trying to grow, their boundaries. So certainly is Port Royal. Is Beaufort’s current informal “make it like it was” approach a realistic strategy?

Mayor Fordham’s 1959 report says the city quadrupled yacht traffic from 1955-1958.

The city has gotten a grant to remake the outermost pier of its downtown marina. Good. The marina operator’s lease is up in two years.

Where’s the plan for maximizing Beaufort’s extraordinary natural advantage as a desirable stop-over location along the Intracoastal Waterway?

The city’s leaders say they want to create an atmosphere in Beaufort so that Beaufort’s young people don’t have to leave to get good jobs. Good. They’ve tried industrial development at the Commerce Park and high-tech development with the Carteret Street digital corridor project. More than $3 million has been spent on those initiatives with little, if any, tangible return.

Both decisions looked from the outside like spur-of-the-moment real estate buys.

Stepping beyond whim to professionalism, and trying to get the cart back behind the horse, if that’s the priority, why not put in the effort to get serious industrial development and high-tech development approaches into place? Get the school board, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the chamber of commerce and the business community on board.

We can disagree on whether this is local government’s appropriate role.

If it’s the group’s priority, as it seems to be, then what better time than now to put the pieces into place?

With the flawed penny sales tax measure down the drain, a new administration in Washington and a new city council, what better time than now to look ahead? If we don’t, to paraphrase the 1959 group, “No dreams today will be no realities tomorrow.”