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Charleston fulfills promise with last pieces of Daniel Island puzzle

Nearly every day, Jill Randolph pushes her 1 year old in a jogging stroller through the winding trails at Governor’s Park on Daniel Island, often stopping at the playground to investigate something that has caught her toddler’s eye.

“We love life on the island because of all the amenities,” said Randolph, who moved from North Carolina a year ago. “We spend a lot of time outdoors, and there’s just so much to explore here.”

Soon, Governor’s Park will also be home to a new $10 million recreation center that will include a gym, aerobics and workout space, meetings rooms and a catering kitchen.

Projected to open late next year, the nearly 22,000-square-foot building represents the beginning of the end of development on the 4,000-acre island. It and a neighborhood park on the community’s north end are the last pieces to fulfill the promises the city of Charleston made when the land was annexed in 1990.

“In a development of this size, which is a small town, it is not uncommon to take 20 years to fulfill the vision,” said Jane Baker, vice president of community services for the Daniel island Town Association. “But now we’re in the bottom of the ninth inning.”

Construction is nearing an end in this bustling master planned community wedged between the Wando and Cooper rivers in an unincorporated part of Berkeley County, where families often drive golf carts to nearby restaurants and children ride bikes to school.

“I guess at that point we will go from living in a construction zone to living in a fully-formed community,” said Kristen Allen, who has lived on the island for five years. "That will be a time that we can really sit back and enjoy what we have here."

From farms to city

The Interstate 526 connection between North Charleston and Mount Pleasant opened around 1990, providing the first major road connection to the massive rural peninsula that was used mostly for hunting and farming.

Until then, Daniel Island was a place that attracted few visitors and very little attention.

But change was coming.

The new access opened up Daniel Island to development.

Landowners Guggenheim Foundation initially rebuffed Charleston’s bid to annex it, but after the city forced its hand with a surprise annexation move, the foundation eventually agreed to join the city.

Charleston helped with the master plan for the development of the rural tract, which former Mayor Joe Riley would later describe as his “Louisiana Purchase.”

The site, larger than the Charleston peninsula, was to have 7,500 dwellings, recreational facilities, emergency services, business, retail and commercial space.

Twenty years later, property on Daniel Island is valued at about $2 billion and generates $30 million in property taxes annually for the city of Charleston, Berkeley County and the Berkeley County School District.

About 5,300 residences have been built, and plans now call for a total of 6,350 houses, townhomes, condominiums and apartments, About 1,200 fewer than first thought.

The master plan called for 20 percent open space, but the island has 50 percent more than that, with parks, trails and playgrounds scattered throughout the homes and businesses.

The island has professional offices, a fire-police station, retail stores, churches, a major tennis venue, a library, a professional soccer stadium, a K-8 public school, an award-winning golf course and the largest Catholic high school in the state, Bishop England, which in 1998 relocated from downtown Charleston to a 40-acre site donated by the Guggenheim Foundation.

“Really, unless you work somewhere else, there’s no reason to leave the island,” said Allen, a stay-at-home mom. "That was what drew us here in the first place. It’s a great family atmosphere where there is always so much going on, and you can get to everything on foot, bike or golf cart.”

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That’s not to say that there haven’t been growing pains along the way.

Daniel Island is not contiguous to the city of Charleston by land and is about 14 miles away from downtown by car.

“It was a challenge years ago, being able to get 911 responders to the island for emergencies and to be routed correctly,” said City Councilman Gary White, who has represented the island for years.

The creation of the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center in 2010 and better communication with Berkeley County helped remedy that, he said.

But when Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg took office in 2016, 20 years after Daniel Island’s first residents moved in, the original development agreement from 1995 had sort of stalled out.

Many of the promises, such as police and fire protection on the island, had been fulfilled, but there were some loose ends to tie up.

Moving forward

Tecklenburg was familiar with the original development agreement because he had helped create it as head of the city's economic development in the 1990s. Not long afterward, he left the city to open the island's first retail store. He became one of the first 200 homeowners, living there on and off for about a decade.

The final items were hammered out in an October 2016 contract known as the Fourth Amendment to the Development Agreement.

“I’m kind of personally honored to be a part of tying the bow on this agreement,” Tecklenburg said.

The amendment “basically resolved all the commitments that the city made and vice versa,” Tecklenburg said. “And admittedly, during the 20-year period, some modifications have been made along the way. The original promises have been kept with a few adjustments that were mutually agreed upon by all the parties so I feel real good about that.”

For instance, in 1995, the city did not anticipate building a tennis center, but the Family Circle Stadium, now Volvo Car Stadium, opened in 2001 and has been the home to the annual Women’s Tennis Association tournament since. The stadium also has become a popular outdoor concert venue.

"The city’s obligations being met happen to coincide with the approach to the finish of the residential and commercial development as well," Baker said, "so it sort of dovetails nicely.”

Passed on Oct. 20, 2016, the fourth amendment includes five main points, Baker said:

  • It gave the city 24 months to start construction on the recreation center.
  • It gave the city 24 months to start construction on a park on the north side of Daniel Island.
  • It spelled out an agreement for the Daniel Island Town Association to maintain the trail system that winds around the tennis stadium and Governor’s Park.
  • It agreed to deed the waterfront park and dock to the Daniel Island Town Association.
  • It gave the association a long-term lease on 52 acres on the south end of the island that currently are used as athletic fields.

“That’s really it,” White said. “After that, there are really no other components left to that development agreement that are to be built.”

That leaves Daniel Island ready to enter a new era.

Construction on the recreation center kicked off with a Sept. 27 groundbreaking, and the neighborhood park will follow soon.

“The rec center has been a long time coming,” White said. “When I started and got engaged in this project, my children were young enough that they would have been able to participate in using this facility.

"Now, two of them are in college and one’s in high school, so their time may have passed. But for generations to come, once this building is built, many, many children from across Daniel Island and the Cainhoy peninsula are going to be able to enjoy a fabulous facility.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.

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