Patriots Point may have plan in December: Revenue-generating strategy involves 36 acres on site

The Patriots Point Foundation hopes to convert the site into an attraction similar to New Orleans’ World War II Museum.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Patriots Point officials say they could have a plan by Christmas to help the indebted maritime museum meet its long-term needs.

The Patriots Point Foundation, the non-profit fundraising arm of the waterfront attraction on Charleston Harbor is working arm in arm with them to create a master plan to develop 36 prime acres into a nationally prominent destination on par with the World War II Museum in New Orleans, according to Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette.

No specifics on the proposal, which is being funded entirely by the foundation through donations, will be available until the end of the year. But Burdette said by getting the word out that a plan is forthcoming, the state agency hopes to mute some of the criticism aimed its way that it's not doing anything.

"There is a lot of negativity about Patriots Point," he said.

Patriots Point's board met with foundation members earlier this week to signal the beginning of a new partnership and smooth over any past differences between the two groups.

The 36 mostly undeveloped acres lie around the ticket office near the ramp leading to the aging fleet of naval vessels moored in Charleston Harbor.

The World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown serves as the centerpiece attraction but is in need of millions of dollars of repairs along with other ships at the tourist site.

The foundation has enlisted the aid of PGAV Destinations, a St. Louis-based consulting firm known for its work with such high-profile sites as the Biltmore Estate, Colonial Williamsburg and the Gettysburg Museum.

PGAV plans to conclude its study of what Patriots Point needs to be nationally prominent by year's end, and the foundation is trying to raise about $200,000 to pay for the final two phases, according to foundation chairman Bob Simons.

The foundation will present its findings to the Patriots Point board, which will then act on the proposal.

The PGAV study will provide a road map to lead the waterfront attraction to national prominence, Simons said. "The fact that we overlook one of the most historic harbors and cities in our nation only adds to this great opportunity," he said.

Burdette thinks the key to making Patriots Point a viable entity is to develop the 36 acres with a museum, restaurants, lodging facilities and entertainment venues.

He hopes the master plan will offer other avenues as well.

"We are trying to create an economic engine to provide a huge infusion of cash to do what we want to do long-term. We need to get something going to make us more money," he said. "It's an unrealized opportunity."

Patriots Point Development Authority chairman Ray Chandler praised the foundation for its efforts.

"We're making money at Patriots Point but not enough money to do all the things that will be needed over the next 25 years," Chandler said. "This plan ... will provide the best opportunity for this great property of ours to become a national destination."

Revenue from the development venture could help pay for the millions of dollars in costly repairs to Patriots Point's warship Laffey as well the Yorktown, which saw about 270,000 visitors over the past 12 months.

Patriots Point owes the state, which provides no funding to the attraction, $9 million for a loan the state made in 2009 to repair the ship. It's estimated work to shore up the Yorktown could approach $100 million.

With the foundation's help, Burdette thinks the development will happen and attendance will soar.

"This is a very important opportunity, and we have to seize it," he said. "The board and foundation are in lockstep on this."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.