BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - The city of Beaufort is working to find ways to boost economic growth in its downtown commercial area.
A project team is hosting focus groups this week with downtown business owners, stakeholders and partners to determine the best way to grow the city's shopping district.
"This is our heart of what people come to see," said Linda Roper, director of downtown operations and community services. "Our tourists are drawn here because its unique character and unique place. We're right on the water, and the down is so quaint and so unique."
Mary and Eric Thibault are artists and owners at Thibault Gallery on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort. They grew up in the city and always had a dream to open their own gallery.
"It's just a sweet town, and it always has been," Eric said. "I mean, even when we were kids, we'd always look forward to going to town."
Thomas Scheuermann and his wife started vacationing in Beaufort about eight years ago, and they liked it so much, they decided to retire there. When they bought a place, they purchased near downtown. He said downtown has changed a lot in eight years, and he wants to see more positive change moving forward.
"The place has really come up, and we're finding more and more excellent restaurants are here," he said. "We love the quaint shops and love the downtown atmosphere, and my wife does spend a fair amount of money when we come down here."
Lise Sundrla, who coordinated the city's downtown revitalization in the 1980s and 1990s, is leading the downtown strategic visioning initiative and said the goal is to ensure people continue to feel that way for generations.
"Where do we want to take our core downtown area?" she said. "We want to know what works and what doesn't work. We want to know what's your vision for the future? Where would you like to see it in the next three to five years?"
The Thibaults were part of a focus group Wednesday. They say gathering ideas will lead to both individual success and an economic boost for Beaufort.
"We have an investment right here in our gallery, so we want to see our business become successful," Mary said. "And we want the other business around us to be successful as well."
Eric said, "If we all put our heads together and do the right things, we'll all succeed."
The project is part of the Beaufort City Council's 2017-2019 strategic plan to give the city a path for the future. The Thibaults said Beaufort is already on a good one, and this project will help keep it that way.
"The best thing about Beaufort is it's not broken," Eric said. "It's a sweet town and all like that, but it could be better. I'm just glad that the city had the vision that, 'Hey, while we already have something that's good, let's put something together to take it to the next level.' And that's what the focus group's going to do."
The research will be presented to the Beaufort city council in February.