Alan Hawes // The Post and Courier

Architect Glenn Keyes steps out of the dairy at McLeod Plantation on Friday afternoon. The PRC has agreed to buy the property and will first work to stabilize the plantationís 13 historic structures.

This time, the sale is expected to stick.

Twenty years after acquiring McLeod Plantation from the Willie McLeod estate, the Historic Charleston Foundation has sold it for $3.3 million to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, which plans to preserve the historic site and open it to the public early next year.

The sale comes after two previous deals -- with the American College of the Building Arts and then with the College of Charleston -- didn't pan out.

Foundation Executive Director Kitty Robinson and commission Executive Director Tom O'Rourke said

Monday is the formal closing date, but it's essentially a done deal.

"To us, it's a very happy ending and a beginning," Robinson said. "Through all these years and considerations along the way, we've landed at what we think is a perfect conclusion."

The commission's next step will be to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to stabilize the 13 historic structures.

Restoration architect Glenn Keyes is preparing a plan for immediate repairs, which could begin this spring and be finished by fall.

"Obviously, our first goal is always to keep the water out," he said. "We'll be addressing the roofs, the windows, the rotten siding -- things where water is getting in. This is just a first stopgap to stop the bleeding, if you will."

The commission also has formed a large steering committee with representatives from the foundation, local, state and federal governments, area schools and colleges, and with the Friends of McLeod, Sea Island Historical Society and Civil War groups.

O'Rourke said the group got off to an agreeable start when it first met Feb. 9 and will meet next on June 16.

The commission also has hired The Yeager Co., a preservation consulting firm, to oversee a process that will decide how the property should be conserved and interpreted and opened up to the public.

National Park Service ranger Michael Allen, who is working to develop the Gullah Geechie Heritage Corridor and serves on the McLeod committee, said he is happy to know people will learn from the site's history, including its role in Reconstruction.

"I know public meetings when I see one," Allen said. "I'm very, very pleased that they're very willing to go through a thorough public engagement process to find out how the community sees this site."

The committee already has come up with 14 "guiding principles," beginning with operating the site as a historic park with "meaningful public access" to provide a more thorough understanding of its role in the Lowcountry's history.

William Shealy, the company's project manager, said the current planning process will take eight or nine months to conclude and will pose some challenges as the commission decides how to protect McLeod's history while opening it up to the public.

Part of that challenge stems from McLeod's diverse history, which includes turns as a working cotton plantation, a wartime hospital, a freedman's bureau and a more contemporary farm.

"It's really going to be a balancing act," Shealy said. "It will be a real exercise in everyone learning about the real resources of the property and how best to stabilize those resources and present them going forward."

As for the immediate work, Keyes said it will include replacing a few wooden roofs that are failing, as well as a lot of paint. The plantation's barn, gin house and shed are in poor condition and might need to be reconstructed to be saved.

"That will be one of the biggest challenges the committee faces -- what to do with those three buildings," he said.

Even though its 40-acre size is but a fraction of what it once was, Keyes said the plantation has a rural feel despite encroaching homes, stores and offices across Folly Road.

O'Rourke said the agency might allow limited tours of the property this year, but it will be opened up further once the plan is complete.

"What we don't want to do now is start traipsing people through the fields and the house when we're not sure what story we want to tell," he said. "Once the plan is done, I think the property is going to be open to the public."

Once the town of James Island dropped plans to acquire the site through eminent domain, the deal fell into place quickly, O'Rourke said, adding that the negotiations "were just effortless."

The sales price -- which O'Rourke said is based on an appraisal -- is $600,000 more than the town had offered but $700,000 less than the College of Charleston's 2009 bid.

The money came from the commission's property tax collections. The owner of a $200,000 home in Charleston County pays about $19 a year toward the Park and Recreation Commission's capital projects.