Charleston City Council is poised to vote on a land deal meant to help the long-term sustainability of the American College of the Building Arts, where the old-time artisan techniques linked to such trades as masonry and ironwork are kept alive.
But the proposal faces an uncertain outcome as some members of council have expressed reservations over whether it is in the best interest of the city.
The arrangement that council will consider Tuesday night has a number of moving parts. Under the proposal, the city would sell the historic Trolley Barn site at 628 Meeting Street to the college for what would be a nominal payment of $10.
From there, several other moves would occur. For starters, the Trolley Barn property could then be subdivided, with the northern section transferred to an investor known as Parallel Capital for $1.75 million.
The school would then use about $1.5 million of that to improve the Trolley Barn building as a teaching environment for students enrolled in the artisan program.
The investor could build offices, dormitory housing or business space on the section of the property it acquires.
The other moving parts include Parallel obtaining the old City Jail downtown, along with a building on St. Philip Street adjacent to the Memminger School that's currently controlled by the school district.
One development plan has the jail being renovated as an office geared for the technical industry, and the school property being used to house a non-profit.
Supporters of the sale, including Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, describe the idea as a win for the city because it gives the arts school a permanent campus site with room for growth. Also, it eventually puts aging or neglected properties and new construction on the tax rolls, without costing the city anything.
"We are transforming a liability into an asset," Riley said during a special council meeting on the deal Monday. He called it "a missed opportunity" if the city doesn't do it.
Parallel's leadership has also offered to endow $100,000 for outreach, to make the school's offerings better known in the community.
But some members of council questioned the wisdom of the plan. Among the concerns aired Monday was that not enough input was sought from the neighborhoods, or that the city wasn't connecting any sales of the property with mitigating the loss of housing from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge construction.
Others questioned whether enough investigation been done into more profitable uses.
"Right now, I have one proposal before me," said Councilman William Dudley Gregorie. He suggested the space be explored further, naming for comparison the tourism and food site of Washington, D.C.'s Eastern Market, or the artisan studio known as the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va.
One council member who supported the idea was Mike Seekings, who pointed out the large number of students and supporters who attended Monday's meeting.
"I think we have to take the proposition that works," he said of predicting the school's future success. The small liberal arts college offers programs that blend traditional academics with training in artisan building trades, such as masonry, plaster work and architectural ironwork.
The Trolley Barn at the center of the proposal was built in 1897 to house the electric streetcars that once served the city. The city acquired the site from the S.C. Department of Transportation as part of the construction project for the Ravenel Bridge. It has fallen into disrepair.
Council earlier gave the idea a first reading review so tonight's consideration could be a deciding move. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551
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