Building a dream: Agencies, businesses, volunteers help clear site for recreation complex

A front-end loader and off-road dump truck from the Berkeley County Water and Sanitation Department move chunks of concrete Monday at the town of Moncks Corner's recreation complex site on Main Street. The concrete is from a lumber mill that was on the si

This economy has taken our jobs and our home equity -- but we shouldn't let it take our Spirit.

The South Carolina Maritime Foundation says it has to sell the city's very own tall ship to pay off its debts, chief among them construction costs of the 140-foot schooner. It seems the charity has not been the recipient of enough, well, charity.

As Glenn Smith reports, the organization owes about $40,000 in back rent and $2.5 million in loans, mostly for construction of the Spirit of South Carolina. The foundation's board says it has struggled to raise enough money to pay its bills in this comatose economy. That is undoubtedly an accurate picture.

But it's way too soon to give up.

"So many people worked so hard to build the Spirit of South Carolina," Mayor Joe Riley says. "It's just so important for this historic port to have a relevant tall ship. I'm willing to work with them to find a way to solve this problem. It would be lazy of us not to try to keep it."

Exactly.

What's the mission?

If ever there was a city that needed a tall ship, Charleston is it.

This is a maritime town, and it has been for more than 300 years. In a place where history is so revered, it's cringe-worthy to imagine the Spirit of South Carolina sold on the auction block to, say, Hooter's or Go Daddy or even Long John Silver's.

Maritime Foundation officials say they want to go on, that the ship was "by no means the primary component of our mission." A lot of people feel differently. Sure, the ship was always sold as a teaching tool for at-risk kids, but this is the "Maritime" Foundation, after all. Many charities attempt the admirable goal of persuading kids to stay in school. The Maritime Foundation's best carrot was that ship.

Without it, they might as well drop "maritime" from the foundation's name.

Time share?

If this were 2007, some government entity would step in to help, for no other reason than to avoid the embarrassment. But these days, that's just not realistic.

City officials can't do it -- they have a Crosstown to fix. And the state can't even fund Medicaid. The State Ports Authority? Yeah, it's a good candidate, but it may have to dredge the harbor itself if it wants it done this century, thanks to Jim DeMint.

Riley has come up with the most plausible idea yet. He believes they might be able to sell ownership shares to local corporations looking for a nice entertainment venue. It's the same idea behind a time-share corporate jet. Best of all, if the ship is still allowed to fulfill its educational mission, every one of those companies gets a tax write-off.

That could work and it's worth a shot, because Riley's right -- the ship belongs in the public realm, and in Charleston, and it would be lazy not to try to save it.

The Maritime Foundation has put together some really good programs for at-risk kids over the years. That ship has showed many of them the value of teamwork and manual labor, and a good lesson on how things got done before there were iPads and smartphones.

If for no other reason than that, someone ought to save that tall ship.

Follow Brian Hicks on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.