By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
Published Jan. 19, 2010
Patriots Point board members, in the process of reimagining the best use of their 445 acres landside, heard a proposal today for construction of a male counterpart to the Statue of Liberty on Charleston Harbor to honor freedom.
The pitch from Rodney Cook (pictured), president of the Atlanta-based National Monuments Foundation, left most board members temporarily speechless.
“Wow,” several board members said quietly after the presentation concluded.
The proposal, complete with a rendering of a huge male figure in a golden hue towering over the city’s skyline, will take some time to absorb, said John Hagerty, board chairman.
Cook made the presentation at the request of a team of consultants that the Patriots Point Development Authority has hired to create a new master plan for the site. That team is led by the Glatting Jackson land planning and design firm of Atlanta and includes local developer Vince Graham.
The master plan concerns the land surrounding the floating ships that make up Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. As the museum struggles with funding to maintain those ships, officials have looked to their underutilized landside acreage as a potential source for more revenue.
Cook said the monument he envisioned would probably cost $100 million to $150 million. But, he said, it would drive tourism to the site in a new way and dramatically increase the value of the surrounding land.
“And the money will follow,” Cook said about raising funds to build the monument.
Right now, Patriots Point is searching for about $8 million to pay back a loan from the state used to save the USS Laffey destroyer from sinking. Officials had counted on $20 million in the federal budget, but that earmark has disappeared.
Cook said Charleston is the only good match for another U.S. monument symbolizing freedom and highlighting the South’s role.
“Here you have the entire pantheon of American history,” Cook said.
He referenced Charleston’s role in the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War and the location of Sullivan’s Island, where many slaves were shipped into the country. The city is the cradle of Southern history and culture, Cook said.
He said his home city of Atlanta could not host such a monument because it was burned by Union troops during the Civil War.
“My city couldn’t possibly pull this off,” he said. “It would be silly.”
Cook said the monument he proposed could be placed on land, or it could be built somewhere in the harbor. Possibilities include Castle Pinckney and Morris Island. The base of the monument could contain a history museum, he said.
“An island opportunity makes it all the more wedded to really the greatest iconic statue in the world today, the Statue of Liberty,” he said.
Board member Susan Marlowe asked Cook if he meant a monument that is actually the same scale as the Statue of Liberty.
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” he replied.
Cook said he proposed a male figure because a female would be too similar to the Statue of Liberty. But the conceptual image he shared showed a figure that shared many attributes of that statue, including a draped garment and crown with starlike points. The figure was shown pointing toward the harbor.
Board members wondered aloud how such a monument would fit with the mission of Patriots Point Development Authority, how they would fund it and whether it would generate the revenue they need to keep operating.
The presentation followed another proposal for a monument — far smaller in size — to be sited at Patriots Point.
The S.C. Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans presented their plans for an 11.5-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide monument honoring the upcoming 150th anniversary of the signing of the Ordinance of Secession in Charleston.
That event, which helped set in motion the Civil War, happened Dec. 20, 1860, said Jeff Antley, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Antley said most plaques and monuments honoring the event in South Carolina have disappeared.
The group has already raised about a quarter of the money needed for the monument and has detailed plans for its construction, but they need a place to put it, Antley said.
They’ve considered other locations, he said, including the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab, where the Confederate sub H.L. Hunley is being restored. But they prefer Patriots Point because it promotes history and tourism and has plenty of available land, and because of the attraction’s connection via boat tours to Fort Sumter, another important Civil War landmark.
Antley said the group is hoping to complete the monument by December.
The only cost to Patriots Point would be security and the cost of electricity used to light the monument at night, Antley said.
Hagerty told members of the group that before the board makes a decision on the monument, members need to talk to stakeholders about the proposal and consider it in the context of the new master plan.
Board member Harry Gregorie said the board needs to figure out how to balance the use of Patriots Point’s land with its mission and ability to maintain its naval ships.
“We could have a development authority that’s 400 acres of monuments,” Gregorie said.
Patriots Point and its consultants plan to hold a workshop in February to present to the public some of the conceptual ideas for the new master plan and gather feedback.
Also at today’s board meeting, Patriots Point Executive Director Dick Trammell gave an update on the Laffey, which was moved to dry dock at Detyens Shipyards in North Charleston in August for hull repairs.
Trammell said the ship is out of dry dock and has moved to Pier November at the S.C. State Ports Authority’s Veterans Terminal. He said the ship is still undergoing other repairs and will probably stay at its current location until the end of May.
Patriots Point officials are trying to determine where the Laffey will be positioned when it returns to the tourist attraction.
Officials have said that placing the destroyer on the right side of the USS Yorktown, the site’s largest ship, instead of its former position to the left could better protect the Laffey from future damage from the tide. Trammell said Glatting Jackson is also considering where the ship best fits into the master plan.
Reach Ashley Fletcher Frampton at 843-849-3129.