Hicks: Some can't see the issue for the microwave oven-looking building

An architect's rendering shows the proposed building at 292 Meeting Street, as viewed from the corner of Meeting and George streets. (PROVIDED)

So downtown Charleston residents have finally found something they hate even more than cruise ships.

That's saying something.

Two historic neighborhood associations and city preservationists have filed another lawsuit against the city, this time for allowing Clemson University to build a big ol' honking, square and - gasp - modern building on the edge of Ansonborough.

They say the Board of Architectural Review changed the rules of the game mid-approval, and they have a point.

Now, reasonable people can disagree on the appropriateness of the Spaulding Paolozzi Titleist 1 Architecture Center's design. And you can argue that the cat's out of the bag on allowing, well, less than historic looking buildings on the peninsula.

Privately, some city officials say they have no problem with the design, but that it might look better somewhere else.

Say, Orangeburg.

But this fight is missing the real problem here.

The question we ought to be asking is: Who invited this Upstate Yankee school to set up shop across the street from the College of Charleston?

OK, somebody is going to take umbrage with calling dear ol' Cow College a Yankee school.

Never mind that, in the South, the definition of a Yankee is anyone who lives more than two miles north of you.

Pendleton is decidedly more than two miles north of here.

But fact is, Thomas Green Clemson - the college's founder - was a Yankee from Philadelphia. The only reason he was in South Carolina is because he married John C. Calhoun's daughter (wonder how those two got along).

Clemson obviously inherited some Yankee tendencies. See, they don't understand that we don't cotton to folks from off coming in and invading our homeland.

Ask the U.S. Army about it.

Not only is Clemson moving into the Charleston market, they have thumbed their noses at the College of Charleston, which is trying to set up its own advanced degree programs right now.

And here comes Clemson, cutting into their business.

We don't even put Domino's and Little Caesar's in the same strip mall. Do you really think it's OK to set up two competing universities on opposite sides of Meeting Street?

For the past decade, state officials - starting with former Gov. Mark Sanford - have criticized state universities for their inclination toward building sprees and mission creep. It's a good point.

This matters because it is costing students - well, their parents. Right now, tuition at state schools costs far more with a Life Scholarship than it was without the lottery money little more than a decade ago.

That's because this building bonanza is being funded largely with tuition increases.

Do we really need more colleges coming to town? That means University of South Carolina and Francis Marion University, too.

Sure, there's a market for advanced degree programs in the Lowcountry. But C of C and The Citadel should get first crack before we allow interlopers - with their fancy California buildings - to come in here.

Instead, we have state lawmakers blocking attempts by the College of Charleston to serve the advanced degree market and then allowing their Upstate schools to come down here and scoop up the profits.

It's turning into the War Between the State Colleges.

The neighbors have gone to Charleston's legislative delegation to get Clemson in line.

Good luck with that. There's a battle brewing at the Statehouse, and right now the Upstate has the upper hand. They will gripe about outrageous spending by colleges and universities, but remain noticeably silent when their own preferred football team's host school does it.

Now, if this was the 19th century, the College of Charleston might just set up a battery on Meeting Street and blast Clemson out of the neighborhood.

Instead, this fight is going to be played out in court.

And ultimately, the decision is going to be little more than cosmetic.

Whether Clemson has to redesign the building or not, it won't be a victory for Charleston.

Because ultimately, there is a bigger problem here than sticking the Museum of Modern Art in Ansonborough - it's allowing the state to inflict unfair business practices on the College of Charleston.

We've declared war on that sort of thing before, as all Yankees should know well.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com