South Carolina sells former Beaufort County port site for $9 million after 13 years

A marathon 13-year effort by the state to sell a mothballed Beaufort County port is crossing the finish line.

An attorney for the buyer said the purchaser signed the paperwork Wednesday to acquire the 317-acre former Port Royal marine terminal for $9 million.

The seller was the state’s Department of Administration, which took ownership of the property from the State Ports Authority last year. The SPA will receive proceeds from the deal after expenses are paid, but the amount has not been determined, a spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday.

The buyer is Grey Ghost Properties. It has said it plans to develop about 400 residences, dozens of stores and restaurants, a 150-room hotel and a marina capable of docking some of the world’s biggest yachts at the historic waterfront town. 

The purchaser is a group led by Columbia real estate investor Whit Suber, Beaufort boat dealer Chris Butler and four other investors, including actor Matt Battaglia, who appeared in “Friends,” “Thor” and “True Detective.” They prevailed at a state auction for the Lowcountry port property earlier this year.

The buyers expect to spend about $200 million in development. Just 52 acres of the Battery Creek site can be built on. The rest is marshland. 

“This is the most highly anticipated project on the South Carolina coast in the past decade,” Suber told the Post and Courier last month. “This is not Disney. It’s not something you have to make up. You have a real village here.”

Grey Ghost is buying the shuttered port for far less than the three previous sales contracts of $26 million in 2006, $17 million in 2012 and $15.4 million in 2015. But it’s paying more than the most recent appraisal of $6.95 million.

The state built the Port of Port Royal in the late 1950s.

In 2004 it was handling only about 20 ships a year because of its shallow water and relatively remote location. That year, then-Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill ordering it closed and sold.

Until now, efforts to sell the property have failed.

Grey Ghost has said its first steps over the next 18 months will be to reopen a boat storage building, construct a waterfront walkway and restart the seafood market and Dockside restaurant, which were closed after a 2015 fire.

The developers also want to reopen a shrimp processing plant, also closed in the fire, and bring shrimp boats back to town. 

“We want to have an authentic Lowcountry feel to it,” Suber said in late August.

The town was already growing before the latest development, with its population expanding by one-third to 12,800 since the port went on sale.

The makeover is expected to give Port Royal a tourist boost. The town, which has two hotels, does not draw as many visitors as Beaufort to the north and Hilton Head Island to the south. The new hotel, restaurants and stores could give visitors to Marine Corps Recruit Depot on nearby Parris Island a reason to stay in Port Royal.


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