By Tony Kukulich
Local real estate developer Dick Stewart has announced his retirement from his position as CEO of 303 Associates, the Beaufort-based company that he founded in 1998.
Courtney Worrell and Jonathan Sullivan, partners and co-owners of 303 Associates, have been named as co-CEOs. Stewart’s retirement has reportedly been in the works for more than a year, and the step up for Worrell and Sullivan became effective on March 1 of this year.
“I’ve always said that when I got to be 72½ and they made me act like I was retired, I probably should go ahead and do it,” Stewart said in an interview with The Island News. “That’s really the timing. But the overwhelming issue is that both Courtney and Jonathan are more than ready to take over those responsibilities. There’s no need for me to be underfoot and adding friction to the process when they’re perfectly capable of moving the ball forward.”
Stewart grew up in Beaufort and attended Beaufort High School. His education continued at Georgia Southern University, where he graduated in 1971. Stewart left Beaufort and worked in the wireless communication industry, eventually founding several of his own companies. Stewart returned with his family to Beaufort intending to retire after the sale of one of those companies in 1998. Instead, he found a new career.
“My friend Beekman Webb convinced me to buy the Old Bay Marketplace and fix it up,” Stewart explained. “In order to do that, we formed 303 Associates. Over the years, it’s continued to grow, and we’ve continued to do things. It got a little bigger than we intended.”
Among the more well known projects undertaken by Stewart have been the Saltus House and Tabby Place restorations. The Saltus House was built in 1797 but sat abandoned for 25 years before it was renovated by 303 Associates in 2001. Similarly, Tabby Place was empty for approximately 20 years after the grocery store that once occupied it closed. It was reopened as an event space.
“We also have pride in the continuing projects that are ongoing now,” Stewart said. “Out here at Beaufort Town Center, since we’ve started the project, property taxes have increased over one-half million dollars a year. (Add to that) the accommodation taxes and the hospitality taxes that go to the city and the other business licenses, I don’t know this exact number, but they have probably generated $150,000 to $200,000 a year to the city. Those are big reuses for what was a piece of polluted property.”
Stewart’s development initiatives in the City of Beaufort have not been without controversy. He has openly feuded with the Historic Beaufort Foundation as that organization has often opposed projects spearheaded by 303 Associates. And, opposition to several current initiatives hasn’t been limited to the HBF.
Last month, 303 Associates faced public opposition as they brought an apartment building project planned for 211 Charles Street to the City of Beaufort Historic District Review Board for final approval. The board didn’t grant the approval and instead kicked the project back to the project’s architect’s for another round of design changes.
In an interview with The Island News last month, developer Graham Trask advocated for the revocation of all approvals of 303 Associates projects granted while David Prichard, the city’s former director of Community and Economic Development, held his position with the city.
Trask made his argument after an informal opinion offered by the South Carolina Ethics Commission in January stated that a conflict of interest existed between Prichard and 303 Associates because Prichard’s wife was employed by 303 Associates.
“Under the circumstances, the city should make null and void all the 303 Associates decisions which were handled during David’s tenure,” Trask said.
Prichard resigned from his position with the city last month, though city officials stated that the resignation was not related to the opinion issued by the ethics commission.
As Stewart steps away from the company’s day-to-day management, he plans to stay involved with the company he founded. Stewart said he also intends to spend more time with his two grandchildren, travel and continue to work in the community. The preservation of heirs’ property is an area of particular interest.
“We’re very interested in heirs’ properties, helping folks keep their properties in their families,” Stewart said. “We’re working through the details on that. I’m looking forward to spending some more time and energy on making that happen as a contribution to society and making that portion of the city more equitable and accessible to people than it has been, perhaps, in recent years.”
Worrell has been with 303 Associates since 1999 and held a variety of roles during her tenure. She is expected to lead real estate activities going forward, while Sullivan will run the hospitality and hotel arm of the company.
“Our goal and one of the missions of the company is to keep Beaufort the authentic place it is,” Worrell said. “Beaufort is growing. People have found it. It’s been discovered. We have consistently worked to incorporate that growth so we don’t become Sprawl City, USA. We’ll continue to focus our efforts in that area, working on redevelopment projects within areas of importance, whether it be Beaufort Town Center, downtown or in the Town of Port Royal. We’ll be building on our success and continuing new projects along those same lines.”
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.