A grand plan to redevelop downtown Charleston's Union Pier Terminal means making waterfront land accessible to the public and creating a modern operation for cruise passengers. It also means moving one of the port's most important customers.

BMW would shift north from Union Pier to Columbus Street Terminal, a change that eliminates rail switching sites that stall traffic within the historic district.

The ambitious timeline for Union Pier's redevelopment calls for a request for proposals from architects by year's end and a start to construction a year later. A new cruise terminal would open in the third quarter of 2012, and then planning would shift toward the non-port components, including a historic landing at the U.S. Customhouse and a public plaza at the foot of the building.

The SPA adapted Union Pier to accommodate BMW years ago, but the automaker currently shares space with cruise traffic and also the facade of a historic rice mill.

While the Port of Charleston continues to lose its BMW import traffic to other points of entry, it remains the primary export site for the luxury automobiles and keeps growing.

Read more in tomorrow's Post and Courier.