The Historic Charleston Foundation has agreed to sell McLeod Plantation on James Island to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, so long as some final negotiations go as planned.
The PRC offered to buy the historic site, the last intact plantation on James Island, for $3.3 million. The commission plans to open the site to the public, but details have yet to be settled.
For the PRC, the purchase would be the latest in a flurry of land deals across Charleston County, most of them funded with half-cent sales tax funds designated for that purpose. Unlike most local governments and institutions, the commission that operates county parks has been flush with cash, and those with property to sell have been calling on the PRC looking for deals.
It was just last week that the PRC and the town of Mount Pleasant disclosed plans to each spend $10 million to jointly purchase 245 acres in the town for park and recreation purposes. That would be the eighth and the final half-cent tax deal for the commission, which has bought land from Awendaw to Meggett over the past four years.
While the proposed deal in Mount Pleasant would consume the last of the $36 million in half-cent tax funds allocated to the PRC, the commission also has about $12 million of its own cash reserves, with which it could finance a loan to buy McLeod Plantation, PRC Director Tom O'Rourke said.
"If there was no half-cent sales tax, we would still be after McLeod," he said. "We're very financially stable, and we have reserves."
The PRC owns and operates properties ranging from suburban sites with water parks and play areas for dogs, to barrier island beachfront parks, to rural areas like the Caw Caw Interpretive Center where people can learn about the former rice plantation there. O'Rourke said McLeod Plantation would fit the historic preservation part of the PRC's mission.
"I must say, it is all very positive," said Kitty Robinson, executive director of Historic Charleston Foundation.
"The entire property will be protected, regardless, and certain areas would be designated as "no build" zones, and the buildings would be protected," Robinson said. "We are completely on the same page."
It would be the third time Historic Charleston Foundation has agreed to sell the property -- the first two didn't work out -- and appears to be the least controversial of the three deals, because of the focus on preservation and public access.
The PRC doesn't have a detailed plan for the property but expects to spend about $2 million on top of the purchase price stabilizing the buildings, O'Rourke said. What the commission has proposed is creating a large committee to create a plan for McLeod.
Historic Charleston Foundation, Friends of McLeod, the Sea Island Historical Society, the National Park Service, local governments, citizens and other groups would be included, under the commission's proposal. Several of the listed groups had advocated a PRC purchase of the site.
"I think it's a good move," said Michael Allen, community partnership specialist with the National Park Service. "It would accent other historic sites."
He noted that McLeod has been a Freedman's Bureau headquarters, was occupied by Union and Confederate troops, and was a working plantation during the time of slavery.
"There are internal answers that people are looking for, and sometimes these sites can provide them," Allen said.
Historic Charleston previously sold the property to the American College of the Building Arts, despite a lawsuit by Friends of McLeod, only to later buy the property back.
The College of Charleston then agreed to buy the property for $4 million but backed out amid controversy over a plan to create athletic fields there.
The town of James Island under Mayor Mary Clark unsuccessfully bid for the property, then launched an attempt to acquire it using the town's power of condemnation. After Clark lost a bid for re-election, town officials urged the foundation to sell McLeod to the PRC.
The 38-acre McLeod tract near the intersection of Folly Road and Maybank Highway includes the plantation's 1853 main house, five slave cottages and several outbuildings.
O'Rourke and Robinson said the sale could be completed within 90 days.
"This (negotiation) is about making sure everyone understands the easements, the restrictions, and comes to an agreement about the future of the site," O'Rourke said.
"We did not submit a proposal for what we were going to do," he said. "We submitted a process, by which we will form a committee to determine what to do with that site."
FALL 2004: Historic Charleston Foundation sells McLeod Plantation to the American College of the Building Arts, for $850,000. The group Friends of McLeod had already filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing the college's use of the property.
FALL 2008: Facing financial troubles, the American College of the Building Arts sells McLeod Plantation back to Historic Charleston Foundation for the same price it had originally paid.
FALL 2009: The College of Charleston Foundation signs a $4 million agreement to purchase McLeod from the Historic Charleston Foundation, subject to a 'due diligence' period.
FEBRUARY 2010: Friends of McLeod holds a demonstration protesting the college's plan to buy McLeod. A week later, the college decides against the purchase, having been confronted with opposition to the idea of using some of the property for athletic fields. Historic Charleston seeks new proposals.
APRIL: Historic Charleston Foundation rejects a $2.7 million offer from the town of James Island, which then launches plans to seize the property through eminent domain. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission says it is 'very interested' in the property.
JULY: In a surprise move, a majority on James Island Town Council votes to drop Mayor Mary Clark's effort to acquire McLeod for the town.
OCTOBER: James Island's new mayor and council urge Historic Charleston Foundation to sell McLeod to the PRC. The town pays the foundation $35,000 toward legal fees related to the town's eminent domain effort. The foundation's board agrees Oct. 20 to negotiate to sell McLeod to the PRC for $3.3 million.
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