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ITK: Palmetto Bay Marina

Dawn of a Brand New Bay: An island icon is being restored, reinvigorated and made ready for a brighter future.

Story by Barry Kaufman and Photos by Lloyd Wainscott

For many of us who evacuated the island in advance of Hurricane Matthew, it was the first image we saw of home and the first warning of the devastation that awaited us when we returned. Broadcast on The Weather Channel, aerial footage showed the docks at Palmetto Bay Marina shattered to splinters and cast about the shoreline like dead spartina pushed onto the bank by high tide.

Yet as Hilton Head Island rebuilt around it, the docks of Palmetto Bay Marina continued to carry the scars of that fateful storm. The months turned into years, other hurricanes came and went, and still one of the truly iconic sights on the island remained in ruins.

In 2016, the docks of Palmetto Bay Marina were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, leading to years of financial troubles and instability for the popular marina.

The story of how it continued to sit in disarray has been told before – suffice it to say, promises would be made and broken over the ensuing years, ownership would change hands, and the businesses that call the marina home would soldier on. So when it was announced that yet another company had purchased Palmetto Bay Marina with designs on restoring it to its glory, you can forgive locals for their skepticism.

“With everything Palmetto Bay Marina has been through, people basically said, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said Kuy Scott, project manager for Palmetto Bay Marina. “But when they realized Millard Oakley was behind this, they knew you couldn’t have a better property owner for this situation.”

Oakley, who has a track record of success when it comes to maritime investments throughout Beaufort County, might not be a household name, but to those who know the business, he was the best thing that could happen to the marina. “He understands the big picture,” said Scott. “Everyone got really excited when they saw the first pilings going in.”

The pilings were part of a multi-phase plan to breathe life back into the marina. To at least get it ready for Memorial Day weekend this past spring, Scott says they undertook smaller projects to common areas, including consistent paint schemes between buildings as well as a complete rebuild of the bathrooms.

“The previous bathrooms might have been the worst bathrooms on Hilton Head,” said Scott with a laugh. In addition to shiny new fixtures and updated appointments, the new bathrooms now lack the showers that the previous bathrooms inexplicably boasted. “We thought those were kind of weird.”

Palmetto Bay Marina project manager Kuy Scott is shown near some of the marina’s new docks.

Next on the docket will be exterior flooring, with the 35-year-old tabby getting a fresh coat of stain, followed by updates to the landscaping. “There was a lot of deferred maintenance that just didn’t meet the eye well. We put up a lot more lighting and a lot more plants.”

As for the marina itself, the first phase will consist of the commercial docks and should be completed later this month. “Right now about 90 percent of the structure is there,” said Scott. More than just rebuilding, the new ownership is improving, with top-of-the-line electrical and sewage pumps as well as dual 10,000-gallon fuel tanks. Even the docks themselves have been upgraded, with aluminum supports against dense garapa wood for durability and style.

“Barrier Island Marine Contractors were the ones who installed our docks, and they have done an incredible job. They deserve a ton of recognition,” said Scott.

One improvement will add an entirely new dynamic to the attractions at Palmetto Bay Marina, with a greater selection of slips for pulling up your boat. “There’s a big demand for dock and dine,” said Scott. “So that people will have another venue where you can bring your boat right to the restaurant, our far exterior pier will have 400 feet of transient dockage at minimum.”

Along with updating the current facilities, Palmetto Bay Marina is undergoing a massive dock expansion. Local boaters will soon have access to the newest marine fueling system on the island and enough slips for 144 boats.

Moving forward, the next phase will incorporate a larger residential side to the marina on the western flank, which will not only be restored but enlarged by nearly 25 percent. “When that’s done, we’ll have a very large number of daily and weekly transients. We think there’s a demand for that. We really look at our dock space as another parking lot.”

Improvements also will be made to the lift well, and when all of the heavy equipment is out of the way they’ll get to work on the one major issue that plagued the marina since long before Matthew – the parking lot. “At a minimum, we’re going to be laying down fresh asphalt,” said Scott.

It might have taken a little bit longer than expected, but with the right people on the job, Palmetto Bay Marina is ready for its return to glory.