By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
Published Aug. 17, 2010
After nine months of planning, consultants for Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum today unveiled a vision for developing as a mixed-use community the roughly 360 acres surrounding the historic ships.
The master plan calls for 2,000 to 3,000 residential units, a waterfront hotel that’s more upscale than those now in Mount Pleasant, office development, retail space in a “town center” style, parking garages, public access to the waterfront, and a gridded street network.
The idea behind the plan, presented by a team of planners led by AECOM, is to sell and lease portions of the land surrounding the museum in a way that will generate significantly more revenue for the Patriots Point Development Authority.
|The USS Laffey travels from Patriots Point to be repaired in August 2009. (Photo/Leslie Halpern)|
The authority, which the state created in the 1970s to run the floating ship museum and manage the surrounding land using self-generated funds, is facing a financial crisis. The crisis is so severe that at today’s board meeting, some members suggested getting rid of the USS Laffey, a destroyer ship that the authority last year borrowed $9.2 million from the state to repair and save.
Now that the Laffey is fixed, Patriots Point can’t afford to pay back the loan because an expected federal appropriation hasn’t materialized. Patriots Point also is struggling with the costs of bringing the ship safely back to the waterfront museum.
Authority board members took no action on the proposed master plan today, asking consultants to come back with estimates of how much revenue it could generate in the short-term and long-term.
“We need some numbers so we can explain to ourselves and others why we would embark on this endeavor to begin with,” said John Hagerty, chairman of the authority’s board.
Members said the financial returns from the development plan aren’t likely to come for several years, and Patriots Point needs money now.
Executing the plan would require officials to renegotiate long-term leases already in place for developments such as the golf course, marina and hotel on the site. Some of those existing developments are not the highest and best use of the property, Hagerty said.
Ship costs mounting
The recently repaired Laffey is temporarily docked in North Charleston as Patriots Point officials analyze a variety of costly structural changes at the Mount Pleasant site needed to accommodate and secure it.
And the longer they wait, the higher the price tag gets.
Patriots Point is paying $11,250 a month to keep the ship docked in North Charleston. And as time goes on, the cost of dredging the trench where the ship would rest increases as sediment fills back in.
At today’s meeting, board member and Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails asked how much it would cost to bring home the Laffey immediately.
“We’re throwing constant good money at bad money,” Swails said. “We need to bring it home now.”
The authority’s attorney, Billy Craver, estimated the cost could be $1.2 million.
Bob Howard, director of operations, said he doesn’t have a precise cost of bringing the Laffey back to Patriots Point. Several factors remain unknown, including the cost of moving structures at the adjacent marina to make room for the ship to return, he said.
Howard said he would bring a cost estimate at the board’s next meeting.
He added that when it does return, annual maintenance costs for the Laffey are estimated to be $300,000.
Meanwhile, the museum’s main attraction, the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, needs about $80 million in repairs, Hagerty said. That staggering cost represents a backlog in maintenance that Patriots Point leaders have had to delay for years because they lacked funding.
Trammell said the Navy is pressing officials to repair its third ship, the USS Clamagore. Those repairs could cost at least $3 million, he said.
Hagerty and board member Harry Gregorie said that, because of mounting costs, it could be time to get rid of the Laffey.
“I think the prudent step is finding another home,” Gregorie said. “That’s my vote.”
Other board members disagreed.
Board member Susan Marlow said Patriots Point should take it one step at a time, trying to build positive momentum to save the historic ships.
“I just think, ‘What if the Smithsonian Institute had this attitude, because it was too hard or too much?’” she said.
At the end of a lengthy discussion — heated at times as officials said they are being blamed for problems the state has long known about — the board took no action on the Laffey situation.
Swails asked for staff to return with a cost estimate of bringing the ship home, and Gregorie asked for a plan that explores sending it somewhere else.
Patriots Point already sent one of its historic ships away. Last year officials transferred the USCGC Ingham to a museum in Florida.
Reach Ashley Fletcher Frampton at 843-849-3129.