Proposed park location Sanford Daniel Island

This graphic, courtesy of Stantec, shows the proposed project site U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, is pushing to become a public park on the southern tip of Daniel Island. Provided.

Congressman Mark Sanford can't stop thinking about large open spaces, specifically the one that got away.

Even more specifically, the South Carolina Republican is thinking about 400 acres on the southern tip of Daniel Island. In 2006, when Sanford was governor, he envisioned turning this waterfront land owned by the State Ports Authority into a grand open park.

"What if this, 100 years from now, was the Central Park of the tri-county area?” Sanford asked the board at the time.

The idea would eventually stall, but the what-if remained.

On Thursday, Sanford will revive his plan for a massive public park on Daniel Island when he announces it at a morning press conference.

"I've got five months left in office," Sanford said by phone on Tuesday. "You begin to go down the checklist of things you got done and those you didn't. This one of those things I want to get done." 

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U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The acreage he's interested in turning into a park overlooks the Wando River, and he envisions it being accessible by car or by an extensive water-taxi network. He also said he would like to have a 6-mile loop created for cyclists and pedestrians.

For scale, the proposed park would be roughly half the size of New York's iconic Central Park.

Sanford said the renewed motivation for the project comes from what he hears frequently from constituents: Fears that rapid development could overtake the character of the Charleston area if steps are not taken to preserve land.

"What they see as the Lowcountry that has either kept them here or attracted them here is, in many cases, changing. What you don't want is for families that have been here for 100 years to be crowded out of their access to the water. It matters," he said.

He has local support.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is one of the local officials backing Sanford's idea. The two men spoke about the concept last week and Teckelenburg is anxious to hear more about it, city spokesperson Jack O'Toole said. 

State Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, will also among the lawmakers and community leaders standing near Sanford when he announces his renewed plans.

But this project still faces its share of hurdles. For starters, cooperation from the State Ports Authority remains key. The SPA owns the entire southern portion of the island that borders the Cooper and Wando rivers.

A spokeswoman for the SPA said no comment was available Tuesday.

Jane Baker, vice president of community services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association, called Sanford's idea "a legacy-maker" but said there are also infrastructure challenges to consider.

She points to the development of three recreational fields underway now on acreage not far from Sanford's proposed site. The only way in or out, she said, is a small neighborhood street.

"It's not a main artery, which is what would be needed to handle the capacity for traffic into a regional park," she said. 

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, also supports Sanford's idea but said the land is already designated for dredge disposal related to the deepening of the Charleston Harbor to 52 feet.

"That land is preserved. It's a state asset. Right now, the asset would be used to receive spoil out of the Cooper River. Before the end of the century, that use will have expired and the land does remain in state hands. At that time, some time in the future, our children or grandchildren will decide what to do with it," Grooms said.

Sanford said he's undeterred and will continue to push for this park even when he's out of office.

"Not developing every inch of the Charleston metro area is becoming a very strong political flavor," Sanford said, later adding, "In an urban space, open space is good for the soul."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.