The Chamber exists to promote economic prosperity and envisions a thriving region based on a resilient economy. The charm, the waterfront, and the historic significance of downtown Beaufort are integral parts of our identity as a community and are major drivers of our hospitality sector. So, any new construction downtown is sure to raise some eyebrows and it comes as no surprise that many are asking questions about the new projects planned by 303 Associates.  

For anyone unaware, the plans would replace vacant parking lots along Port Republic and Craven Streets with new hotel rooms and a structured parking deck. There are also plans expand meeting room space associated with Tabby Place and to replace a 1940’s era former grocery store building on Charles Street with new apartments. Info is available at:  

Opinions on the project are already being shared on social media and in the press. I encourage Chamber members pondering the merits of this project to consider these factors as you form your opinion:  

Our Rights are the Foundation for Enterprise and Investment
Without confidence in and respect for individual property rights and legal due process, no one would invest in real estate, or in any other private enterprise for that matter. A community that values a strong business climate must also respect individuals’ property rights and put a premium on review processes that are clear, swift, and certain.  

Over several decades, the City of Beaufort has had to balance this respect for property rights with the necessity of preserving downtown’s unique identity. The result is the planning and zoning processes to which all downtown property owners are subject and by which they all must abide if they wish to add value to their property. This is a complex process which entails consideration of and compliance with zoning, codes, review boards and other regulations. Getting from concept to construction often requires months of planning, thousands of dollars in legal and architectural fees, dozens of meetings with public officials, and extensive oversight.  

Established ordinances and current process should be rigorously and consistently followed for all new developments. Critique of established ordinances and current processes can have no bearing on the fate of pending projects.   

Our Neighbors Need Jobs and Local Businesses Need Customers   While the economic forecast feels brighter now, we’ve gone through some dark days over the past twelve months. Unemployment is still much higher now than it was a year ago. Many businesses, particularly those in F&B, personal services, retail and attractions, are still vulnerable and hungry for visitors ready to spend.  

The new jobs and added economic activity that will come with the planned hotel expansion will be welcome news for our neighbors who lost a job or are struggling to keep their business open.  

Our Community Needs a Growing Tax Base  
Ask any resident why the Beaufort Region is a great place to live. After they talk about the climate and the water access, the charm and the history, they will probably mention the tax rates. Compared to many places around the country, residents here benefit from competitive property taxes. Continued investment is the key to keeping those rates competitive.  

Taxes fund the costs of public infrastructure and government services. The costs to construct and maintain roads, bridges, stormwater projects and to pay for government services rarely decline over time. The way to keep rates low as costs rise is to grow the tax base.  You don’t have to be a CPA to understand that a hotel building or conference center has much higher taxable value than a gravel parking lot.  

Striking a Balance  
A healthy community like ours must balance its priorities. Preservation of history is clearly an important shared priority. So is maintaining our character. But our business climate, jobs and tax base are also important shared priorities.   

Striking the right balance is an individual perception; it depends on which shared priority is most important to you. As you form an opinion on the planned downtown development in question, or on any new investment in our region, I hope you’ll also weigh the impacts on our business climate, jobs and tax base.