Cruise-ship facility gets BAR nod

Rendering of a revised plan for the State Ports Authority Cruise Passenger Terminal presented to the Board of Architectural Review.

Charleston's Board of Architectural Review has approved preliminary plans for the State Ports Authority's $35 million cruise ship passenger terminal, moving the project closer to the SPA's goal of starting construction this year.

The 5-0 vote Wednesday evening was the second of three BAR approvals required, and it made clear that the board finds the plan acceptable with minor details to be resolved before final approval.

The authority's plan would convert an existing warehouse on Union Pier, near Concord and Laurens streets, to a new cruise-ship facility.

The Board of Architectural Review at a previous meeting had criticized the design plans and refused to grant preliminary approval, but on Wednesday board members praised the revisions, which were aimed at improving the exterior appearance of the building.

"I have to say that I'm very pleased with the level of refinement," said board member Christian Schmitt.

Changes included making the east side of the building, on the Cooper River, and the west side, where passenger buses unload, appear more inviting. For example, large roll-down doors on the water-side of the building were replaced with more attractive folding doors, and the bus area was altered to appear less like a loading dock.

Board member Edward Fava called the changes an "enormous improvement." Robert DeMarco, Erica Harrison and Sheila Wertimer joined in the vote.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ron Jones, and a number of port-related officials spoke in favor of the plan at the meeting.

A Coastal Conservation League representative reiterated the organization's desire to see solar panels used to provide shore-side power for cruise ships, and architect Jim Scott was among several Ansonborough residents critical of the design plan.

Scott said the extensive use of louvers was an outdated cliche. Others expressed concern about the large parking lots around the building.

Riley defended the SPA's position that a parking garage might make sense in the future, as Union Pier is redeveloped, but that for now a well-landscaped surface parking area is appropriate.

"The redevelopment of Union Pier is something that will happen over time," said the newly re-elected mayor.