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College of Charleston – Plantation rich, but plan poor
Lee Walton

This past Sunday’s Palter and Chatter feature article, “Getting ‘Dixie Vision”, was nothing more than thinly veiled damage control to mitigate the College of Charleston’s recent, albeit still swelling, black-eye over its pending purchase and reported readaptive uses for the historic McLeod Plantation on James Island. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that the College and its nonprofit foundation are only fourteen years late and several million dollars short of any useful educational benefit from Dixie Plantation, both the College and its foundation are now scrambling to put a fresh face on their efforts to justify owning what the wife of one recent past president described as an expensive albatross around the College’s financial neck.

Over the past decade and a half, the College has yet to justify its continued retention of the 862-acre Dixie Plantation that is, for all intent and purpose, on the backside of the moon from the College’s Peninsula campus. Now, a new president and his staff are singing another verse to the same old land-use tune that much more influential and knowledgeable past presidents have failed to accomplish. The only difference this time seems to be $9.6 million in federal “stimulus money” that is burning a hole in their collective pockets. This recent financial wind-fall, coupled with what the Foundation’s latest executive director claims is a “shovel-ready” project to make “Dixie” more accessible to the college student body, faculty, and others is just another nebulous cloud in a string of failed plans to placate alumni and foundation donors now wondering just who is focusing the image of the College’s future vision.

This latest attempt to divert the public’s attention from the College’s and its Foundation’s pending purchase of McLeod Plantation is nothing short of a shameful ploy to fend off increasingly harsh public criticism for the College’s professed plans for an extension campus and a lighted intramural sports complex on the fields at McLeod. With all the many other possibilities for campus expansion on James Island, one must question the College’s covert, likely politically driven motive to acquire McLeod and remove it, once-and-for-all from ever becoming a publicly accessible cultural and historic attraction.

For those “from off”, the College’s purchase of McLeod seems a logical action for the burgeoning, land-strapped institution to seek land close in to its peninsula campus for expansion. But for the “been here’s”, more knowledgeable of the covert Charleston political circus and its ringmaster, J. Pericles Riley, there are more sinister possibilities. The political bond between Charleston City Hall and the President’s Office at the College has always been strong, the Sanders-Riley relationship being the most recent example in a continuous string of mutually beneficial relations that have served both offices well.

Neither Riley nor his lackey-managed Historic Charleston Foundation wants McLeod Plantation to ever be publicly accessible as a competing historic venue to downtown attractions. The College is now Riley’s latest means to accomplish that objective.

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