Plans for a public-private development project in West Ashley have been delayed after the Charleston City Council deadlocked on a crucial vote.
The council recently held an hours-long debate over whether to move forward with the $45 million investment plan for a public-private development project with a civic center, green space, fountains, commercial area and underground parking garage on the former site of a Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
The council ultimately voted 6-6 on the project for the city-owned property, which is bordered by Sumar Street, Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road. A tie vote means it fails. Members then voted to send the project back to a committee for further review.
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The city bought the site six years ago after hearing about plans to turn the site into a gas station when the grocery store moved out. Council members had hoped a grand development would spur economic activity and revitalize a major suburb where 44% of the city’s residents live.
“It’s about delivering what West Ashley deserves. It’s time for West Ashley’s time in the sun,” said Council member Ross Appel.
Appel noted that Faison, the developers of the nearby Ashley Landing shopping center, are investing over $100 million into that site and relying on the Sumar Street development to help attract businesses.
Following more than a dozen community meetings where resident feedback was considered, council members were presented with three options for the site. All options included a performing arts center/civic space, shopping area and green space that members said would be able to host movies in the park, food truck rodeos and more social activities.
Here’s a look at the development options
The main difference between the options was cost and parking. Option 1, with the underground parking lot, would have been a $45 million investment by the city and a $30 million investment from development partner Landmark Enterprises. Option 2 included a parking deck (a $35 million to $37 million city investment) and Option 3 included surface parking (a $21 million to $23 million city investment). The underground parking lot itself would cost $23 million to create.
Only Option 1, with the underground parking lot, is shovel-ready. The city’s design and review board has already approved design plans for that option.
Jason Ward, president of Landmark Enterprises, said at the meeting that Options 2 and 3 would essentially be council “going back to the starting line” to get approvals.
Despite 15 residents speaking in favor of Option 1 at the meeting, the council ultimately deadlocked. Those in favor were councilmen Ross Appel, Stephen Bowden, Karl Brady, Jason Sakran, Peter Shahid and Mayor John Tecklenburg. Those against were Boyd Gregg, William Dudley Gregorie, Robert Mitchell, Caroline Parker, Kevin Shealy and Keith Waring. Council member Mike Seekings was not in attendance.
Councilman Keith Waring said he believes the support for the project was politically motivated.
“This (decision) is coming down to council members that Mayor Tecklenburg helped get elected and ones who won independent of the mayor’s support,” Waring said.
Those opposed said they were concerned about the cost, questioned how many community members really supported it and asked for a more comprehensive study with varying design options.
It’s a matter of cost
Councilman Gregg said he did not think the cost justified the project.
“Spending $45 million on a three-acre site (with a goal) to transform thousands of acres across West Ashley is a bit naïve,” Gregg said. By his calculations, Option 1 would have cost $1,700 per square foot to develop and would use all of the city’s tax increment financing to subsidize the development.
“This puts all our money into one very small basket,” Gregg said.
Council members noted that by sending it back to a committee, the city may be on the hook for $600,000 owed to Landmark Enterprises in termination fees. Members also said further delaying development plans will likely increase the overall cost.
Political drama continued in the days following the vote with at least two candidates for mayor releasing statements about the outcome.
Council member Shahid criticized the mayor for lack of leadership and candidate Clay Middleton called the delay “ridiculous,” stating “we deserve better and we can do better.”