HICKS COLUMN: Ansonborough residents feel the squeeze
The good people of Ansonborough have had enough.
The historic neighborhood in the heart of downtown Charleston says it's feeling squeezed by the city's recent “progress.”
Clemson is putting up a new building at Meeting and George. Pile drivers are shaking their homes as they sink the foundation for a new Buist Academy. The Gaillard Auditorium is expanding right in their backyards.
And don't even get them started on those cruise ships.
“We're being squeezed from the East, squeezed from the North, and squeezed from the West,” says Stephen Hanson, president of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association. “We're being constricted by all these new uses. It's like trying to put a round peg in a square hole.”
So last week, the neighborhood group voted “overwhelmingly” to support the Preservation Society of Charleston's plan to move the city's performing arts center out of their backyard.
You've got to figure these folks are ready to secede.
Evan R. Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society, listed concerns about Ansonborough at the top of his group's list for wanting an alternative to the Gaillard renovation/expansion.
The city is about to begin construction on a $141 million renovation of the 1960s auditorium, which will now include outdoor performance space and city offices. The building will inch closer to Ansonborough, narrowing George Street a tad.
Thompson says that is too much in one spot. City offices would be better suited to the Cigar Factory at East Bay and Columbus, and a new performing arts center could be built on the Union Pier property that the State Ports Authority plans to open soon.
Mayor Joe Riley says that's not possible. He says that Ansonborough has been kept in the loop on Gaillard plans, and he talked to many residents there who were thrilled at the idea of having a world-class facility in walking distance.
Besides, the neighborhood is getting something out of the deal: The Gaillard renovation will house Ansonborough transformers, allowing SCE&G to finally bury power lines in the neighborhood. But some residents are skeptical about the feasibility of that, and besides, they say they have bigger problems.
What the city wants
No one is sure what's next.
Ansonborough has lobbed the first shot, and say they will start lobbying City Council. Riley said sorry, construction on the Gaillard will start in August or September. Not only is the Preservation Society plan impossible, he says, it's too late.
“We're going forward, City Council unanimously approved this and it's what the community wants,” Riley says. “This will be a wonderful asset for the region.”
Hanson says his neighbors are under no illusions, but they think their neighborhood is at stake — and they see a good alternative.
“If you're spending money going down the wrong path, why continue to spend money when something else is out there?” he asks.
It's a question that might linger downtown for quite a while.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.