Noisette targeting summer to dig lake

Acres of asphalt where thousands of workers at the shuttered Navy base once parked should give way to the framework for a small lake later this year as the Noisette Co. prepares to spend millions on its long-awaited redevelopment project.

Seven years after the ambitious plan was announced to pump life back into the once-bustling military installation in North Charleston, Noisette plans to begin tearing up existing water and sewer lines, moving utilities and getting the site ready for a water basin that will serve as the focal point of the 340-acre renewal project.

Site work could begin as early as this summer, Noisette project manager Jeff Baxter told Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday.

"We think we have built the foundation for this to be successful," Baxter said.

Armed with the ability to pay for improvements through up to $165 million in bonds, thanks to the support of North Charleston City Council in November, the redevelopment company is conducting final engineering and design work for the proposed improvements that could one day lead to high-rise buildings and tree-lined streets around the lake and along Noisette Boulevard.

The initial phase, which includes the lake between Cosgrove and McMillan avenues, will cost between $30 million and $40 million, said Art Titus, Noisette Co. vice president of operations. Noisette will pay for the improvements and as development occurs and increases

the tax base, the company will be reimbursed from property taxes.

The completed project calls for 5,400 residential units built as an environmentally friendly community with shops, schools and offices built within what is being called the Navy Yard, the property Noisette acquired from the city. It's roughly bounded by Spruill and Reynolds avenues, the Cooper River and just north of Noisette Creek near Virginia Avenue.

Baxter emphasized that it's a 10-year development plan and that the company will concentrate on infrastructure and not on erecting buildings itself.

"We will put in the infrastructure and amenities and sell off the parcels to other developers," he said.

Baxter said the 1996 closing of the Navy base thrust thousands of people out of work, but there are now more than 6,000 people working there, including at the old shipyard and federal facilities at the base's southern end.

"We are modifying this while keeping it operable," he said.

Baxter added that Noisette is working on a plan to restore 10 of the historic structures that once housed military commanders in what was once Chicora Park, the last surviving remnant of an 1890s vision for a retreat park that was linked to Charleston via a tram.

"We have several buildings and parcels under contract. We are not looking to make shortcuts. We are looking to take the time to develop this in a way that the city can be proud of. The important thing is that the foundation has been laid for the vision to be reached."