Horizon District preliminary master plans revealed

A 3D model looking south shows what the Horizon District will look like once the development is complete. (Rendering/Perkins & Will)
A 3D model looking south shows what the Horizon District will look like once the development is complete. (Rendering/Perkins & Will)

By Ashley Barker
Published May 20, 2014

Construction is set to begin in the fall on a downtown parking garage that will make room for the first phase of the Horizon District, according to Michael Maher, CEO of Horizon Project Foundation Inc.

Known as Phase Zero, the project will include a parking garage built behind the city’s police headquarters within the Horizon Project — a 22-acre development between Lockwood Drive, Fishburne Street, Hagood Avenue and Spring Street on the western side of the Charleston peninsula.

This map shows existing buildings in gray and new Horizon District buildings in white. (Rendering/Perkins & Will)
This map shows existing buildings in gray and new Horizon District buildings in white. (Rendering/Perkins & Will)

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The city of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina and the MUSC Foundation created the nonprofit Horizon Project Foundation about three years ago to guide the development of the area. The project sits adjacent to MUSC, Roper Hospital and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Roughly 1,400 cars, most belonging to MUSC employees and students, currently park on lots within the district that will eventually become mixed-use buildings, Maher said.

The cars will be moved to the garage before the beginning of Phase I, which includes a 150,000-square-foot office and research building, along with a building that will include retail space on the ground floor and multifamily apartments above. The Horizon Project Foundation is working to attract a grocer to the retail space and expects Phase I to start in the summer of 2015.

Maher took preliminary master plans for the district to the city of Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review last week. He said the idea was to help the BAR understand the overall context of the project because several phases will be introduced to it during the next few years.

“Horizon has a very strong relationship to the institutional framework of the city. Horizon is located directly adjacent to the medical university district — MUSC, Roper, as well as the VA — and also closely associated with other institutions,” Maher said. “The vision of Horizon is driven by its ability to create proximity and to leverage off of the activity, research in biotechnology and science that is going on at the medical university and other institutions.”

Plans revealed

Once the development is complete, in approximately 12 to 15 years, roughly 51% will be multifamily residential space, according to Maher. Some of the space, mostly targeting the MUSC workforce, will be for sale and some will be for rent.

About 30% will include biotechnology research labs along with incubator space and traditional offices. Those uses alone are expected to create more than 3,000 jobs in the district. Maher said the recent investment announcement by medical research group Aeterna Zentaris is an example of what could happen there. He said other research firms have also been looking at the region for relocation because of plans to build Horizon.

Ten percent of the development will be for commercial purposes: street-front retail, restaurants and entertainment for area residents. Roughly 500 jobs are expected to be created by that portion of the development.

The remaining 9% will include the facilities that already exist on the property. Maher said there may be room for expansions of some of the hotel operations.

A new “spine,” currently being called Horizon Street, will be built through the center of the district to create an urban core, according to Maher. The 80-foot-wide space will create a promenade area that will encourage walking and biking. The residential areas will mainly be built along the perimeter of the district.

“Horizon will have an open, walkable design that will be very similar to the vibe and experience of Second Sunday on King,” Maher said, referencing the monthly shopping event that temporarily prohibits cars from driving down King Street between Calhoun to Queen streets.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Horizon puts the city in a position for growth.

“With residences and all the amenities needed, such as a workplace, groceries and restaurants within walking distance, and a spot by the Ashley River, it will attract those who want to work in the biomedical field and live in an extraordinary location,” Riley said. “We look forward with great excitement to the development of this community.”

Building on a landfill

The western side of the peninsula doesn’t have the prosperous history that the eastern side does, according to Maher.

“The quality of life that we all know and love about Charleston, we find it all on the east side of the peninsula,” Maher said. “Through most of our history, in fact half of the 20th century, the west side of the peninsula didn’t really exist.”

He showed the BAR a 1930s-era aerial photograph in which the west side of the peninsula consisted of mostly marshland. In the late 1950s, he said the area went through some significant changes, including a landfill.

“While the east side of our peninsula might be called the ‘capital of commerce on the Cooper,’ the west side may be the ‘trashy on the Ashley,’ at least at that time,” Maher said. “Our challenge is we have ground that’s been created through that landfill that is now an opportunity for the Horizon District.”

The new district will create a “place where there is no place and create an environment where people want to live, learn and earn within,” Maher said.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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