Hotels out, rail yard in

This rendering shows an early plan for the Promenade development proposed by the Ginn Co. Instead of condos, a proposal now calls for developing the property as a rail yard to serve the port.

Hey, what happened to the amphitheater, the marina, the hotels and the condos?

Just nine months ago, the Ginn Co. was laying out, at public meetings in Charleston, ambitious plans to develop 200 acres of former landfill along Town Creek as a mixed-use hub that could revitalize the city's East Central neighborhood.

Now, local developer Robert Clement of Shipyard Creek Associates has taken the lead role in developing the site, and hopes to turn the property into a rail yard for port freight. Charleston County Council has endorsed the idea, as have several Charleston officials.

"My instinct was, if there was a feasible plan to enhance the Port of Charleston, the maritime industry, then we would be very supportive," said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.

Riley said the plan could involve more than a rail yard, and holds the potential for a new break bulk cargo terminal and roll-on facility, such as automaker BMW now has at Union Pier. Charleston has long-term plans to redevelop Union Pier when a new site is found for those activities.

The Ginn Co. referred questions about Promenade to Clement, whose company signed an agreement for the site in March. The property is owned by a Pennsylvania real estate investment company, Lubert-Adler, which was the financial muscle behind both plans.

Clement said the hotel and condo plan isn't entirely dead, but the focus now is on the rail yard idea.

"If this (rail yard) doesn't work out, then we might go right back to that," he said.

Charleston Councilman Jimmy Gallant, who represents the area, said he thinks an industrial facility would be better for the area, because it could provide good jobs.

"It could be a blessing for the community, from an economic standpoint," Gallant said. "When you talk about doing something industrial, you are talking about good jobs for people, who can earn what we think would be a good salary."

"I'm not a great proponent of hotels and restaurants," he said. "Those are not high-end jobs."

The property is located off Morrison Drive, just north of the Ravenel Bridge's East Bay off-ramp in Charleston. It is the site of Charleston County's former Romney Street and Holston landfills.

Last year, during public meetings to review the plan, Preservation Society of Charleston Director Cynthia Jenkins expressed concern that the Ginn Co. plan could end up looking like a theme park.

Jenkins said she'd like to learn more details about the rail yard proposal, and whether it could impact any historic or archeological sites, but voiced some support for the concept.

"If it gets a lot of trucks off of the interstate, then to me that makes perfect sense," she said. "It's a lot more green and sustainable to move freight by train."

The issue of where to put local rail facilities for the new port at the former Naval Base involves an ongoing dispute between the different interested parties. One option is to serve the new port with rail lines at the base, which is opposed by the city of North Charleston.

Riley said Charleston does not plan to take sides, but he thinks the site would be appropriate for what Clement has proposed.

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