At least two public entities and possibly other suitors could vie for the right to buy McLeod Plantation, one of James Island's most historic sites.
McLeod's owner, the Historic Charleston Foundation, began seeking proposals Wednesday from those interested in the 38-acre property, which includes a main house built in 1853, a row of five slave cottages and other outbuildings, some in bad shape.
James Island Mayor Mary Clark said the town will continue its efforts to buy the property, while Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Director Tom O'Rourke said his agency also is "very interested."
The foundation's previous plan to sell the property to the College of Charleston fell through in February after a community group expressed concern about the college's plan for using McLeod's fields for recreation.
While McLeod has been appraised at about $4 million, the purchase price is only one of four things the foundation will consider when weighing a deal, according to its request for proposals.
It also will look at the buyer's preservation expertise and commitment to rehabilitate the property, the proposed use, and other details.
Foundation Director Kitty Robinson has said the foundation is interested in protecting and preserving McLeod's architectural and cultural resources, and it also would like to see the property open to the public, if possible.
Interested buyers are asked to respond by May 14.
The foundation's request for proposals notes that the town of James Island has looked at acquiring the property through eminent domain, even though the property has been annexed into the city of Charleston.
Clark said the town has not voted to condemn McLeod, but she would not rule it out. The town has tried to buy the property twice, but the foundation rejected both offers, including the most recent $2.7 million bid last month.
"This is a priceless property, and it is James Island's history," she said. "All of these other players are not James Islanders, and they're not tied to the history of McLeod as James Island is."
"The people of James Island have been very much disturbed by the condition of McLeod," she added. "It's been allowed to deteriorate in a sad way."
O'Rourke said the commission hopes to assemble a coalition of historical groups and government agencies to help the county agency devise a plan for buying, preserving and opening up the site.
"I'm dumb enough to think that if I can get them all in a room, even the ones who don't like each other, and if we're all truly interested in preserving McLeod, there shouldn't be any problems with this," he said. "We want this to be as public as possible."
O'Rourke said the commission can find the money, and it already has approved hiring a consultant to work on the commission's proposal.
He said he felt it is too early to talk in detail about how much public access the commission would provide on the site. "We'll let the site dictate what we'll do at the site," he said. "If you bring all the people together, we can figure it out."
The foundation said it reserves the right not to accept any offer, and any deal is expected to include detailed easements stipulating the property's preservation.
Its June 2009 appraisal pegged the property's value between $3.725 million and $4.191 million.
The foundation has sold the property to the American College of the Building Arts, but the school was forced to sell the property back to the foundation two years ago for financial reasons.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at email@example.com.