Posted: February 3, 2023
On January 30, 2023, the State Ports Authority (SPA) and its L.A.-based development team, LOWE, shifted into high speed when they submitted their application for the redevelopment of Union Pier to the City of Charleston. While the speed and contents of the application are cause for concern, HCF supports the redevelopment of Union Pier Terminal in a way that reflects the community needs, exceptional design principles and values of this great historic city and her people. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to properly consider and develop an important piece of land into a vibrant new peninsula neighborhood that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. But this effort needs to be intentional and should encompass the needs of a wider spectrum of Charlestonians. As a significant waterfront property that is in the public domain, the benefits of this redevelopment should be for the people in our community.
Historic Charleston Foundation has advocated, in detail, with the port and the city for such a plan. The application submitted, disappointingly, did not reflect the majority of Historic Charleston Foundation’s comments or suggestions. Because it is a state-owned public asset, HCF has argued that the plan for Union Pier should be approached differently than other private developments and should far exceed what a typical development would deliver. And it must reflect the unique brand and values of Charleston in style, scale, architecture, and design. This prime real estate should be developed as a waterfront access point for all of the districts of Charleston. It can provide new restaurants as well as housing for a range of income levels. We can agree that for Charleston to keep its charm and continue to be one of the most profitable regions in the state, this development must not be a generic build of huge luxury condo buildings, hotels and retail space that is unwelcoming to the rest of the city and its residents. We expect the plan to be bold, visionary, and provide exceptional amenities to residents. This expectation has guided our thoughts and recommendations and approach to the redevelopment of this site. What is critical to remember is that we get one shot at this to be done properly. This cannot be done without adequate public input and a reasonable timeline for comment and due consideration.
Of grave concern is the speed with which this project is hurtling forward. The Port hopes to have its plan approved by the city in June, and the land itself sold to a developer (or developers) by the end of this year. The city planning department is saddled by an outdated Comprehensive Plan and Peninsula Plan, and is therefore hampered without a vision or lens through which to adequately assess a plan for this valuable 70-acre waterfront land. It is, therefore, even more essential that the city leads this process with thoughtful community engagement to fulfill the needs of our diverse and growing community.
In the end, no one will remember if this project took 6 – 9 months longer to allow for a community-first process. If, instead, the city allows the land to be developed to maximum capacity to achieve the financial objectives of the port and a few developers, it will have sold us all out for mediocrity. That will be what future generations remember.
We look forward to continued engagement with you – the community – in this process to ensure that you are informed, and your voice is heard.
Or, send your comments directly to the redevelopment team here. Continue reading for HCF’s high-level recommendations that were submitted to LOWE and the SPA.
P.S. You might have seen this opinion letter by Steve Bailey that the Post & Courier published over the weekend. If not, it’s thought-provoking, and I encourage you to read it!
The redevelopment of Union Pier Terminal is a critically important opportunity on the last 70 acres of undeveloped waterfront on the peninsula. Adjacent to two National Register Historic Districts, it is the largest proposed development project in the history of downtown. HCF is deeply invested in ensuring that this project is reflective of the design principles of our world-renowned city. Consequently, HCF has spent considerable time in meetings with the Port and LOWE to gain insight into and influence their redevelopment plans for Union Pier Terminal.
Like many of you, we attended the public engagement sessions held last fall and the Planning Commission meeting in mid-December, where the team presented their concept plan. We have reviewed, analyzed, and provided detailed feedback, given the highly schematic nature of the information that was presented. (Our full comment memo to SPA and LOWE can be accessed below.) We submitted these comments in the hope that they might meaningfully impact their master plan proposal.
Generally speaking, HCF would like to see a redevelopment proposal that appropriately relates to Charleston and reflects the diverse character of our exceptional city.
This week, the SPA and LOWE filed an application with the city to begin the city’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) process. Through the TRC process, the public is getting their first look at the PUD documents. TRC is an internal city committee that reviews site plans for compliance with city ordinances and is comprised of city department heads. Committed to a very swift timeframe, we expect the SPA to apply to the Planning Commission for consideration of this project in April or May, followed by City Council for final approval in June. Things are moving very quickly so we need people to get engaged!
Based upon our initial reviews of the re-zoning application, HCF’s high-level recommendations are:
Process – Focus on legacy implications and a high-quality, community-led process
Heights and Massing
Generous Open/Civic Space and Historic Context
Land Use – Should have a resident-focused perspective–inviting to locals on and off the peninsula.
What are your thoughts on how Union Pier Terminal should be redeveloped? You may also send your comments directly to the redevelopment team here.
To read Historic Charleston Foundation’s full response to SPA and LOWE, follow the link: Union Pier Response