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Moultrie Park deal-estate development Boondoggle

Lee Walton

Just when the citizens of “Rileyworld” thought things couldn’t get any worse with all the $142 million Gaillard wheeling and dealing and the cruise ship promotions by City Hall, many choked on their coffee as they read the Palter and Chatter’s September 3rd lead editorial, “Clarify Moultrie Park plan”. For those longer in the tooth than the cum yuh’s on the Peninsula sporting their first shiny South Carolina automobile tag, the Beach Company-Moultrie Park land swap has been in Riley’s cloak room plan book for decades. This smoke and mirrors land swap would allow the Beach Company to consolidate its several landholdings in the area and redevelop a large contiguous tract consisting of the southernmost third of the area bounded on the south by Broad Street, west by Lockwood Boulevard, north by Beaufain Street, and east by Ashley Avenue. The City would graciously give up a public street and a large, long-standing public park and playground where many older Charlestonians safely played as children. In exchange, the City would receive the center third of the city block described above.

Not only would the City give up valuable green space and recreational area at the corner of Broad and Ashley, it would also give up most of the public right-of-way of Barre Street between Broad and Beaufain. In return for this entire public highland, three guesses what the City would get in return? – An overgrown, polluted tidal ditch west of Barre providing “…a path and view corridor to the Ashley River.” Notwithstanding the federal and state environmental permit and funding required to develop this swamp into a playground, who in their right mind would swap developed highland with prime corner frontage for the cobbled together, flood-prone interior of a city block dominated by a pluff-mud tidal ditch? Please tell the citizens of “Rileyworld” that council members Not-so-Lilly White and Wuh Yuh Seekings aren’t asleep at the switch on this one. Or have they been bought out in advance by a Riley backroom deal?

Then there’s the little editorial tickler about the project’s funding, “…money for the project would come from the city, businesses and citizen donations.” First, the locals must be amazed by now at the endless pool of “donors” Riley always says will fund his nightmarish visions. Were those who gave to the Aquarium or the School of the Building Arts the same as those tapped to give to the African-American Museum, to the Gaillard renovation, or to the symphony? Lordy, those folks must have some real deep pockets; they’re the quintessential “gift that keeps on giving”. Second, there’s that group identified as “businesses”. Are they in with the “donor” group, or are they targeted for some special Riley tax? Then there’s that pesky little giver call the “city” - that’s US! We’re going to graciously give our property taxes, sales taxes and user fees to fund this boondoggle for the Beach Company.

Over a decade ago, Riley and his staff of cronies were planning an expansion of the original King Street Tax Increment Financing District, which was reported to include only additional areas bordering Meeting, Calhoun and East Bay. Riley presented Council with a long list of tax map numbers for consideration, but provided no location map to indicate the proposed areas of expansion. A few council members located each listed parcel on the County’s tax maps and were surprised to find that the list also included the SPA’s Union and Columbus Terminals, Broad Street from King to Lockwood, Colonial Lake and a few other key parcels in that area. When caught flat-footed at a Council meeting with his hand in the TIF “cookie jar”, Riley turned as red as a ketchup bottle and said it was a staff mistake! Riley was caught trying to sneak the Moultrie Park, Colonial Lake area into that TIF over a decade ago to pay for this same deal-estate redevelopment. The mistake for trying to sneak the two SPA terminals into the King Street TIF District is a story for another day.

If the citizens of Charleston in general and the Peninsula in particular allow this deal-estate boondoggle to slip through, it will be a public travesty of the highest order and a terrible loss to future generations seeking recreation and safe public solitude currently offered by Moultrie Park and Colonial Lake.

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