• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine
Cover, Features

Van Willis : Port Royal’s Town Manager

Story by Julie Hales     Photos By Susan DeLoach

The Town of Port Royal has a Council/Manager form of government. This way of government is also referred to as the Town Manager Plan.

     The daily activities of Port Royal government are under the supervision of a professional manager. Under this system, the professional manager reports directly to the mayor and council.

     The man at the helm of this government is Van Willis, Town Manager of Port Royal.

     Under the leadershipof Willis, Port Royal is recognized as one of America’s leaders in small town New Urbanism. They aspire to continue to be the best place to live, work and play in South Carolina’s Low Country by preserving a superior quality of life for today’s residents and for future generations.

     Port Royal takes a tremendous amount of pride in their natural environment and the accessibility to that environment through their network of walking trails, community beach, the boardwalk and observation tower.

     Port Royal is also booming with business opportunities. The recent sale of the port brings nothing but more exposure to current businesses and the start-ups of more businesses to come.

     The sale of the port, coupled with the location of Port Royal, is sure to bring nothing but good things to the current residents and businesses. Located centrally within the Parris Island Gateway and adjacent to both the City of Beaufort and the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, Port Royal positions their local businesses directly in the heart of area commerce.

     This sale brings many new things to area. And, Van Willis is the man to make sure this transition happens smoothly.

     Willis was born in Savannah and raised in Charleston. He and his family moved to Port Royal in August of 2002, when Willis took the job as the Town Manager.

     He holds an Undergraduate degree from Presbyterian College, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of South Carolina.

     He is married to wife, Jodie Willis and they own the Little Brown School in Port Royal.  The have three children, Davis, 14, Guerin, 11 and Saida, 8.

      In Willis’ 15 years as Town Manager, the biggest changes he has seen have been population and growth.  He says,” We have seen significant population and growth, but the Town is finally getting some recognition for the unique place it is.  Much of what makes the ‘Beaufort area’ what it is, is actually in Port Royal. We would like to see that recognized by businesses and the press.”

      “We offer our residents a truly authentic town experience, while also offering access to the natural environment. All with the quirkiness that is Port Royal,” adds Willis.

      When it comes to taking care of the merchants in Port Royal, Willis praises his staff.  He says,” The Town staff is probably one of the more business friendly municipal staffs they will encounter.  We strive to be prompt and available.  If our merchants have a question, we can get them in, almost immediately, with the town staff, and  they will be guided through the process.”

     As Town Manager, Willis handles an array of tasks, all in a day’s time.  He shares, “I handle the day to day administrative management of the Town.  I could be dealing with the potential redevelopment of the port, which will be in the neighborhood of $200,000,000 when it is done, to handling a resident’s complaint about their neighbor’s dog, all within 15 minutes.”

     When Willis has some down time, if there is such a thing for a Town Manager, He is happy driving his kids around Beaufort County to attend various activities and sports-related practices.  Other than that, he and his family spend a lot of time on the water.

     Beaufort Lifestyle conducted a Question and Answer session with Van Willis about the sales of the port. Here are his answers:

BL: When will the sale be final?

VW: It was closed on September 20.

BL: Who are the new owners of the port?

VW: Grey Ghost Properties, LLC

BL: What affect does the sale of the ports have on the Town of Port Royal?

VW: It provides the residents of the town access to probably the jewel property in Port Royal.  We have not had real access to that property for decades. It is an opportunity for long-time residents and business owners to realize that their commitment to the Town is bearing the fruit that they anticipated.

BL: When do you anticipate the new owners to start construction on the waterfront?

VW: They have already begun cleaning up the property, and I expect commercial activity in either first or second quarter of 2018.

BL:  Do they have a projected completion date?

VW: This is probably a 5-10 year project for buildout.

BL:  What are the plans for the redevelopment of the ports by the new owners?

VW: It is truly a mixed use redevelopment; single family, some multi-family, a dry stack, a marina, possibly two hotels, s significant variety of commercial, including shops, restaurants, and a number of parks.

BL: What is their first area of redevelopment?

VW: They intend to get the dry stack up and running and reopen the restaurant adjacent to the shrimp docks.

BL:  Have the existing merchants in the Old Village shown excitement for the new development?

VW:I think they have all been waiting as patiently as they can.  The redevelopment process will take time; however, the sheer level of associated activity should be quite beneficial to existing businesses.

BL:  Do you feel we will have more small businesses opening in the Town of Port Royal?

VW:Absolutely, the port redevelopment provides a destination that should draw visitors to the Town.

BL:  What do you see happening to the existing small businesses now in Port Royal?

VW: Hopefully, they will flourish.  We expect the activity of the port to push that excitement up Paris Avenue.

BL:Will the sale of the port affect our natural environments…like the walking trials, community beach, the boardwalk and observation tower?

VW: The redevelopment plan includes 15 plus acres of open space, which includes several parks and a waterfront promenade.  It will also incorporate the Spanish Moss Trail, allowing it to finally cross Ribaut Road.  The Trail will tie into the existing boardwalk and observation tower.

BL: Will our local boaters and fish tours be affected by the sale?

VW: Hopefully, only positively.  We think the property will offer boaters more waterfront dining and activity experiences.

BL: How do you think this sale will affect Real Estate in Port Royal?

VW: We saw significant increases when the port first went on the market during the height of the real estate market back in the mid 2000’s.  We hope it doesn’t get that ridiculous again, but we are anticipating increased values and activity.

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