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City Council, September 9

More funding for the Gibbes and Aquarium
Turkys Towing has problem relocating
Marc Knapp

Council last night approved a $5 million bond issue to support renovations and improvements to the Gibbes Museum and the Aquarium. Interest and amortization of the Revenue Bonds will be met by revenue derived from the City’s Accommodation Tax. However, in a memorandum to Council members, the Mayor stated that the Aquarium and the Carolina Art Association (joint owner of the Gibbes) will repay about 95% of the borrowings “over time”.

The Gibbes Museum is jointly owned by the City and the Carolina Art Association. A $12 million renovation is planned and the museum has been active in lining up finance. It seems that it has succeeded though a small part of the necessary funding may need to be borrowed. The Mayor said that with the $2 million contribution planned from the proceeds of the Revenue Bond issue, the total contribution of the City to the Gibbes will be $3.9 million. The balance, $8.1 million will be derived from pledges and gifts. However, as the Mayor noted, the museum may need to borrow money. These borrowings would reflect the possible failure of donors to make good their pledges, or temporary funding while pledges with timing limits, mature.

The SC Aquarium is to receive $3 million from the proceeds of the Bond issue. This follows on the $2.7 million the body will receive from the issue of bonds by the SC Jobs – Economic Development Authority (JEDA) approved at the previous Council meeting. The JEDA bonds will “finance a major conservation contract that will include replacement of the building’s main chiller, all HVAC control systems and conversion to LED lighting. These changes will result in significant operational cost savings”. In his memo, the Mayor said the $3 million from the Revenue Bond issue and the $2.7 million from the JEDA bonds will accomplish most, if not all of the deferred maintenance at the facility since it opened in May 2000.

However, the fund-raising at the Aquarium is not over. The Shark Shallows exhibit is under construction and the Sea Turtle Hospital is planned to be moved from the basement to a permanent exhibit. The cost of the latter (maybe of both as the wording in the public documents is ambiguous) is estimated at $5 million though the Mayor said that $3 million, including a private gift of $2.5 million, had been raised to date.

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Turkys Towing attempt to relocate within the City is having problems. The firm holds one of the City towing contracts and is attempting to relocate from its present site by the Ashley River Bridge to a site on Highway 17. It has bought 1.91 acres comprising 3 contiguous parcels, one of which is 1901 Savannah Highway and is next to the Super Sofa Store site and which houses the memorial to the fallen fire fighters. The other two parcels front Pebble Road, which is conspicuously residential.

The three parcels are in the unincorporated part of the County and Turkys Towing has requested that they be annexed into the City and with a General Business (GB) zoning. The zoning would allow for the storage of towed cars. The City’s Planning Commission (PC) turned down the annexation.

In our view, it was unlikely that the Council would have reversed the PC’s decision. But notwithstanding, a number of residents of the area spoke passionately in opposition to the relocation. They noted that vehicles leaving the site could only turn right when entering Highway 17. This meant that those planning on traveling south would have to use the exit on Pebble Road to access Highway 17. Considering the likely high volume of traffic through Turkys, this would be very detrimental to the residential neighborhood. Residents also spoke of the sacrilege of locating Turkys next to the Sofa Store site. Reflecting on the appearance of the present Turkys lot, with numerous vehicles in various states of repair, the Highway 17 parcel would not be a pretty sight. One speaker also noted the abundance of PVC piping on the Sofa Store site and found it offensive (The Mayor seemed to agree for he would consider enhancing memorial to the firefighters).

Council member Moody told Council that recognizing the hostility of the nearby citizens, Mr. Turky had agreed to close off the exit to Pebble Road. He was going to canvas the neighbors for their thoughts and presumably seek PC approval if there was support from the neighbors. We wonder. The residential ambience of Pebble Road may be preserved. But that left hand turn will be a problem if all the tow trucks have to use the Highway 17.

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