Legislative OK, contracts next steps
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
copyright 2004 The Post and Courier
COLUMBIA--Road signs leading to North Charleston could soon include the line: "Home of the H.L. Hunley."
After three hours of meetings Thursday, the state Hunley Commission voted to put the Confederate submarine museum inside the former Charleston Naval Base. Now, the timetable moves forward as Hunley scientists must decide on a preservation plan and North Charleston officials begin planning the museum.
The decision comes after a two-year competition between Charleston, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston over which would display the world's first attack sub.
As the winner, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said he's elated and ready for a citywide Hunley promotion.
The Hunley is expected to be ready for display in about five years, giving the city plenty of time to secure additional financing and move forward with design and engineering studies.
Under the city's plan, the sub would be housed at the Navy base, which is being redeveloped for homes and businesses as part of the Noisette Project.
Summey said museum designer Ralph Appelbaum, who designed the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., is still on board for the project.
"We have an opportunity to share a larger piece of the tourism pie that the Lowcountry is known for," Summey said. "The decision shows we have come a long way as a community, and the future is as bright as it can be for us."
North Charleston's $13 million bid was chosen over proposals by the city of Charleston and a combined bid from the town of Mount Pleasant and the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Both offered far less money, and Mount Pleasant took $7 million of the $8 million offered off the table after the selection dragged on too long.
Early in the process, Hunley Commission chairman and state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charles-ton, indicated that Patriots Point might be the best choice.
The Hunley launched on some of its missions from a dock nearby, and the naval history museum is an established, state-owned tourist destination.
On Thursday, McConnell said North Charleston's package was
"The ideal thing would have been if we had all the money and could have been where the Hunley was launched from," he said. "But that's not the reality."
The sub went to a "city generous enough to have us," he said. "The dollars count to me, and I understand $13 million."
The decision to award the sub to North Charleston must still be approved by the Legislature, and contracts between North Charleston and the commission must also be worked out.
Very little of the $13 million in North Charleston's plan is in cash but instead would be collected over the next few years. The city's commitment includes:
-- $10 million from bonds that will be backed by the value of former Navy base property. As the federal property is sold into private hands, it becomes taxable for the city of North Charleston and provides additional city revenue.
-- $2 million from the scheduled $9 million sale of Navy base
property to a private company.
-- $50,000 a year to the Hunley's Warren Lasch Conservation Lab for as long as it continues to operate.
-- The deed transfer of several pieces of base property and building used to house, support and display the Hunley to the state Hunley Commission.
Thursday's decision did not come without controversy. Hunley
Commission member and state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, made a last-ditch attempt on behalf of Patriots Point.
"I'm not knocking the Navy base," he said, "but right now it's an industrial complex; it's not a Navy museum.
"I think location needs to be considered rather than money alone," Limehouse added.
He also noted that North Charleston's money is not "cash in-hand" but is dependent on outside factors such as issuing bonds.
Officials envision spending approximately $40 million on the Hunley museum located near Pier Alpha on the base's north end. It would tell the story of the sub, which on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, rammed a black powder charge into the USS Housatonic, becoming the world's first attack sub.
Excavation of the sub is under way at the Lasch lab and still needs some form of conservation. A probable choice is to put the sub in a chemical solution bath to neutralize 13 decades of sea salt trapped in its skin. If left untreated and unchecked, the salt would continue to eat away at weak points under rivets and panels, eventually destroying the vessel as a display artifact.
It would also house thousands of artifacts on the Civil War at sea, including items from the Southern Maritime Collection, a private collection of maps, paintings, weapons and artifacts the state bought for $3.5 million.
McConnell said North Charles-ton's financial package was too great to pass over.
"If we get strangled with a debt, I don't care how many visitors come, you'll never be able to sustain it," he said.