Patriots Point board commits to land sale strategy

By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
aframpton@scbiznews.com
Published Dec. 17, 2010

Patriots Point Development Authority board members on Thursday endorsed the idea of selling off pieces of land to developers, rather than offering only long-term leases as it has in the past.

After months of discussion about development of the 367 acres they control, the board voted 8-1 in favor of moving ahead with land sales.

“That was a huge step,” board chairman John Hagerty said after the vote, which came at an all-day board retreat at the Courtyard by Marriott in Mount Pleasant.

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Board members are considering more intense development as a way to generate revenue to care for the aging ships that constitute Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

In addition to a backlog of maintenance needs, the authority does not have the money to repay a $9.2 million loan from the S.C. Budget and Control Board for emergency repairs to the USS Laffey destroyer. The 18-month loan was due Dec. 1.

Thursday’s vote was general and did not refer to any particular parcel of land or any buyer. But Executive Director Mac Burdette said it gives him parameters when speaking with potential developers who are calling him to express interest in the property.

Neil Robinson, an attorney who spoke at Thursday’s retreat, told the board that developers have more difficulty getting financing if they are working under a ground lease than they do if they own the land.

Hagerty said he invited Robinson to speak because of his experience with complex development. Robinson also represented developers who previously considered projects at Patriots Point, he said.

The dissenting vote on the sale of parcels of land came from Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, an ex officio member.

Swails said he would not vote on the general idea of selling land without knowing details about the density and type of development that would be allowed.

In particular, Swails said he does not want to see 2,000 or more homes on the land, a range recommended in a development master plan that a team of consultants presented earlier this year.

Hagerty said town officials will ultimately have to sign off on whatever development is proposed for the land, and traffic capacity on nearby roads will play into those decisions.

At the retreat, board members — some of whom have served for years, others appointed in recent months — were briefed on the legal and regulatory constraints on development of the land.

Among them: About 200 of the 367 acres are subject to development limitations because of a federal conservation grant that was used to develop a golf course on the site.

Bill Craver, attorney for Patriots Point, said officials have been working to remove the conservation designation, which mandates that the land be used for public recreation. Doing so requires transferring the designation to a separate parcel elsewhere, he said.

Another challenge is that large swaths of land are subject to long-term leases with two investors through the end of the century.

Craver said Patriots Point can’t force the investors, Great American Life Insurance Co. and Lubert-Adler, to give up their leases. Hagerty, however, has said that both investors are interested in discussing plans for more intense development on the property.

Patriots Point controls about 56 acres that are not subject to leases or other restrictions, Craver said.

Selling any property that Patriots Point Development Authority controls, or transferring leases, will require approval from the S.C. Budget and Control Board, he said.

Christiane Farrell, Mount Pleasant planning director, told board members that the town’s comprehensive plan envisions development on the Patriots Point property. The area is where the town’s urban corridors, U.S. 17 and Coleman Boulevard, meet, and it serves as the town’s front door, she said.

Still, to move ahead, Patriots Point officials or the developers with whom they choose to work will need to coordinate with the town and must submit a traffic impact study, Farrell said.

Reach Ashley Fletcher Frampton at 843-849-3129.

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