Local hotel developer to lease, develop 50 acres of land at Patriots Point

An aerial view of Patriots Point, where Bennett Hospitality will develop up to 50 acres of land.

One of Charleston's most prominent hospitality firms has been selected to develop a major chunk of Patriots Point's property in Mount Pleasant.

Patriots Point Development Authority voted Friday to lease about 50 acres, its last plot available for development, to Bennett Hospitality. The agreement is contingent on the board's approval of a 99-year lease agreement, which will be negotiated with Bennett Hospitality over the next month.

The company's plans for the property can't be released until they're given final approval by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, the state agency that has final say over such developments. Michael Bennett, owner of Bennett Hospitality, said it will involve a mixed development including hotel, office, restaurant and retail spaces.

The $300 million project could take seven to 10 years to complete, according to Patriots Point spokesman Chris Hauff.

"We aren't going to celebrate until it's all approved, but it's a big day," said executive director Mac Burdette.

Bennett already owns the Cottages on Charleston Harbor at Patriots Point. He also owns local restaurants such as 39 Rue de Jean and Coast, along with many other accommodations including several Courtyard Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels in the area.

Bennett was chosen from an unknown number of candidates who responded to Patriots Point's request for proposals, which was made public in May.

Burdette said part of the reason the company was chosen was the fact that, "when they develop something, they keep it. They run their own restaurants, they run their own hotels, and therefore they become partners with what they do, and I think that resonated with the board a great deal."

Bennett said he looks forward to working with Patriots Point on "the opportunity to develop the waterfront property on one of the great harbors of the world, that in conjunction will have a positive effect on Patriots Point and the continuation of its mission, which is to take care of the Yorktown and help educate generations of Americans about maritime history and its great veterans."

The available property includes a 20-acre plot facing the Charleston Harbor that's occupied by the museum's parking lots, ticket office and the soon-to-be-updated Vietnam War exhibit. The lease agreement would require Bennett to pay to relocate the parking and land-side operations should they develop that parcel.

"We're parking on our most valuable piece of property, that just doesn't make sense," Burdette said.

The lease also includes 22 acres next to the College of Charleston sports complex, but that can't be developed until after a conservation easement expires in 2021.

Land at Patriots Point cannot be sold, but is rented for long periods of time to give the state agency a consistent revenue stream. The latest lease agreement, the first in nearly a decade, has long been considered one of the sitting board's most important missions yet.

In its three-year plan laid out in 2012, Patriots Point established a goal to increase its property revenue from $1.6 million per year to $5 million to help fund the restoration of the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown, which could cost up to $100 million.

The museum still has to pay the remaining $300,000 for the structural assessment of the Yorktown just to determine the scope of repairs the aging ship will need.

"The board is excited about the future of Patriots Point and our relationship with Bennett Hospitality," said chairman Ray Chandler. "I look forward to Patriots Point stepping into its full role as a keeper of its historical artifacts of the Second World War, and now developing the property so that they can be sustained for future generations."

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail