By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
Published Sept. 21, 2010
Patriots Point Development Authority’s 370 acres fronting Charleston harbor could be worth between $150 million and $180 million in 20 years under a proposed redevelopment plan, a consultant said today.
“That’s a goal which I believe you should aspire to. I don’t believe it’s guaranteed,” said John Alschuler, chairman of HR&A Advisors and a member of the authority’s master plan consulting team.
Alschuler recommended a first phase of development of about 48 acres that, if executed properly over five years, could result in the land being valued at $50 million by 2015.
That initial work should include waterfront land now developed as a golf course, he said. It should set a different tone for the land, which could lead to higher values in later phases.
“Your first moves are your most important,” he told board members at today’s meeting.
But Alschuler cautioned that the $50 million estimate is based on assumptions — some of them aggressive — about density, capital improvements, the recovery of capital markets and the ability to renegotiate long-term leases already on the land.
“That’s not a number we believe you can get today, given the market condition,” he said.
Patriots Point Development Authority board members had requested estimates of development values and revenue after the team of consultants, led by AECOM, last month presented a new vision for the land adjacent to the historic military ships of Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Consultants have recommended that Patriots Point partner with a third-party developer to transform the land into a mixed-use village, and to structure the deal in a way that brings in revenue annually.
Officials began the master planning work last year in an effort to better utilize the land that state officials put under its authority in the 1970s. Patriots Point’s leaders want the land to generate more money to pay for maintenance and repairs to its aging ships.
Board members took no action on the master plan at today’s meeting. Chairman John Hagerty said the next steps include finding investors interested in executing the plan, and then further defining the details and seeking Mount Pleasant Town Council’s approval.
Already, the density of development is emerging as a sticking point.
The team’s master plan calls for 2,000 to 3,000 residential units on the property. The value estimate for the first phase assumes construction of 175 single family homes and 50 townhomes or condos per year, at a density of 20 to 30 units per acre.
Today, consultant team member Vince Graham, president of The I’On Group, urged the board to approach the discussion of density with an urban mentality. He said that not everyone necessarily will arrive to the site by car.
With more people and activity, alternative transportation methods, such as ferries, become an option, Graham said.
“The first thing that people jump to is ‘Oh my god, the traffic. How are we going to handle all this traffic on Coleman Boulevard?’” Graham said.
Traffic was, in fact, the concern for Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, who serves on the Patriots Point Development Authority board.
“I don’t think today the town of Mount Plesant would approve 2,000 dwellings on this property because of traffic,” Swails said. “... I think they would tell you no to 2,000.”
Swails added that “What Mr. Graham says usually comes true, but it takes some time to come true.”
Time frame questioned
During discussion, some board members expressed frustration with the recommended five-year time frame for a first phase of development, saying they’d like to see improvements to the gift shop and ticket booth right away.
“Could it not be a more multi-pronged approach?” said board member Susan Marlowe.
Consultants advised against piecemeal improvements that aren’t planned in the context of an overhaul.
Alschuler said building a new gift shop that is integrated with other retail and restaurants would encourage people to stay on-site longer and spend more money. That would ultimately generate more revenue for Patriots Point.
“It’s extremely difficult to do infill development that changes its context,” Alschuler said. “That’s usually a losing battle.”
Hagerty said the two entities already leasing land from Patriots Point, Lubert-Adler and the Great American Life Insurance Co., could be potential developers under the new plan.
During a closed session following today’s public meeting, board members were to hear a presentation from the Great American Life Insurance Co. regarding its lease, according to Patriots Point attorney Bill Craver.
USS Laffey costs
Also at today’s meeting, board members heard an update on the costs of returning the recently repaired destroyer ship, the USS Laffey, to the attraction site.
Patriots Point borrowed $9.2 million from the state last year to make emergency repairs to the ship to keep it from sinking. Now that the Laffey is fixed, unexpectedly high costs of returning the ship, along with other logistical considerations, have kept it docked temporarily in North Charleston.
Bob Howard, director of operations, said the cost of returning the Laffey to its previous location in the harbor is between $860,000 and $975,000.
Moving the Laffey and the submarine USS Clamagore to a new position that officials say is safer and more practical in the long run, would cost between $5 million and $6 million, Howard said.
Swails made a motion to go with the cheaper option and bring back the Laffey as soon as possible, tapping the attraction’s $3 million balance to pay for it.
That motion failed; most members wanted to continue studying other options.
Reach Ashley Fletcher Frampton at 843-849-3129.