College won't buy McLeod Plantation

The College of Charleston Foundation announced Tuesday that it would back out of a proposed deal to purchase McLeod Plantation on James Island. The foundation said it could not justify the costs associated with the deal if it also yielded to the concerns

Robert Behre

The College of Charleston can't justify purchasing the historic McLeod Plantation if it must limit how it uses the property to appease community concerns, college leaders said Tuesday.

The College of Charleston Foundation announced in a news release that it was withdrawing from the proposed purchase of the 40-acre property on James Island. The college's foundation signed a $4 million agreement of purchase and sale document with the Historic Charleston Foundation in October that was subject to a "due diligence" period. During that period, the college and its foundation explored potential uses of the property.

The college had proposed using the property for academic programs and establishing a "college green" on the property that could have been used by students and the local community for recreation and special events, the release stated.

But the Friends of McLeod, a 600-member community group, raised concerns about the college possibly using the fields for intramural sports. And the Gullah/ Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission issued a statement that said McLeod "should be preserved,

protected and interpreted because of its importance to the history and culture of the Gullah/Geechee people." The statement did not specifically address sports fields.

After scaling back its proposed use of the property in response to community input, the college decided it could no longer justify the costs associated with purchasing, preserving and maintaining McLeod Plantation.

"While we are disappointed with this outcome, we are also energized and inspired by the important lessons we have learned and by the exciting new opportunities that have arisen between the college and the African-American community of South Carolina," college President George Benson said.

Benson and other college leaders throughout the process met with community groups to get their input on the college's decision.

Michael Allen, coordinator of the Corridor Commission, said Benson called him and other members of the commission personally and told them about the college's decision. "We appreciated the opportunity to be part of the discussion and decision," he said.

The group still stands by its statement for how McLeod should be used, he said. And, he said, a lot of good information and research came out of the college's due diligence process that will likely be useful to other groups in the future.

Kitty Robinson, executive director of the Historic Charleston Foundation, in a statement said the goals for McLeod remain the same. "We are, first and foremost, committed to the protection and preservation of the property's architectural and cultural resources. Secondly, if it is possible for the property to remain open for the public's education, use and enjoyment while ensuring its financial stability, we will endeavor to make that happen."

Robinson also said that the goal of both her organization and Friends of McLeod is to preserve and protect the plantation. But, she said, the foundation is a national leader in preservation, and trustees understand that responsible stewardship takes more than good intentions. "In addition to lofty goals, it requires technical expertise, significant financial resources, a realistic business plan based on hard facts and market research, and an ongoing revenue source other than gate admissions, which will never be enough to support the plantation's restoration and ongoing operation."

The foundation will continue to look for the next steward of McLeod Plantation, Robinson said. The foundation will "ensure preservation of the property through stringent, legally binding protective covenants, with the hope of keeping it accessible to the public." Trustees are ready to entertain all reasonable options, she said.

"As soon as we find a buyer who can demonstrate a proven preservation ethic and expertise, the initial financial means to restore the property, and a realistic, solid business plan for the property's ongoing operation, we will be ready to open the door to the next chapter in McLeod Plantation's unique and invaluable history," she said.

The College of Charleston will offer its academic expertise to any future purchaser of the property, Benson said.