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City Council, July 15

New site for African American Museum
Building height limit to be raised in High Tech overlay
Marc Knapp

As expected, the Council approved the agreement to acquire the properties between The Maritime Center and Dockside Condominiums to host the proposed African American Museum. The agreement was first approved by the Real Estate Committee on Monday.

The agreement has been well reported in the media. In summary, the original proposed site, across from the Aquarium, is to be sold. The new site comprises two parcels, one owned by Waterfront Restaurant LLC and the other owned by the City but under a long term lease to the LLC. The City will pay $3.5 million under the arrangement and will cover the cost of the freehold and the buy-back of the lease. The value of the freehold and the lease buy back was not broken out. It is expected that the old site will sell for more than $3.5 million and that $3.5 million of the proceeds will be applied to the purchase of the new site.

Interestingly, the City sold the 0.4 acre freehold parcel to the LLC some years ago for $600,000.

Related items on last night’s agenda were payments to the architects - $615,000 to Moody and Nolan, the “Architect of record”, and collaborator, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners Architects LLC, and to the program design -$250,000 for Ralph Applebaum Associates.

Mayor Riley spoke glowingly of the ability of these firms and their vision. He also said that one of the architects prompted consideration of the new site. It has uninterrupted water views and lays adjacent to the site of the wharf where the slave carrying vessels unloaded their cargo.

Nobody objected the relocation of the proposed African American Museum or the purchase. But Council Member Gregorie was not happy that the agreement had been subject to a press conference before it was brought before Council. The issue arose first in relation to another item on the agenda. Council was asked to approve “after the fact” an application for a grant. Requests “for after the fact” approvals were troubling. Council member White supported the Council member in his complaint.

CFO Bedard addressed the issue. He was sympathetic to the complaint but noted that this was summer and Council met only once a month. Sometimes there was little opportunity for Council to be apprised on grant requests as the City also received little notice. He also noted in relation to the grant request, it was just that. To accept the grant, Council approval was necessary. And as Council member Waring noted, the agreement inked by the Real Estate Committee relating to the museum was also dependent on approval by Council.

Members also had questions about the financing of the musem. The Mayor noted that the County and the City were both contributing $12.5 million and the State, $25 million. The latter contribution would probably be $5 million next year and further payments beyond. The Mayor also noted that he would begin to seek donations more rigorously from the private sector and was going to New York shortly to meet with potential donors. The City hopes to raise $25 million from private sources to complete payment for the museum.

The City’s move to encourage development in its High Tech Corridor overlay received some criticism in Citizens Participation – from the Preservation Society and the Neighborhood Consortium. The City is proposing an ordinance that allows building heights up to 85 feet. It is hard to determine what precisely the change will mean. In the Old City Height district, which hosts part of the overlay, height limits can be affected by setbacks and other provisions. In certain circumstances, it seems buildings can be 100 feet tall.

Both speakers who rose in Citizen’s Participation asked that the issue be deferred to allow further study.

The Mayor defended the request noting that part of the High Tech area was a relatively new part of the City and to encourage the development of high tech companies, it had to allow more latitude for developers. He noted that the Planning Commission had to review the ordinance before it came back to Council. He also agreed that staff should make a presentation to the Neighborhood Consortium on its plans.

Notwithstanding the public comments, the Council unanimously voted for the ordinance.

Council agreed with the Planning Commission and denied the request for a Landmark designation for part of a property on Colony Drive in West Ashley. Part of an old fire place remains on the property and was thought to be part of the building that housed German POWs from World War ll. However, one speaker suggested it was related to an ancillary building. It didn’t matter, it was not deserving of a Landmark designation and the Council approved an SR1 designation for the whole 0.2 acre property.

Council Moody addressed Council at length, speaking of his recent trip to France and in particular to the town of Flers. The town invited a group of Charleston residents as part of its D Day remembrance. Not generally know was that Charleston sent a boatload of supplies – some 115 tones- to the town in the aftermath of the war and that Mayor Riley’s father played a leading role in organizing the shipment. A square in the town is named after Charleston in appreciation.

Mayor Riley was one of the individuals invited by the town but was unable to travel. Mayor pro-tem Moody attended in his stead. Council member Moody noted the town’s interest in tourism, economic development and student exchange.

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