BY WARREN WISE
The Post and Courier
Glistening new buildings, tree-shrouded walkways and thousands of students and professors milling about where an old tank farm and rusting warehouses now sit.
That's the possible future of Clemson University's proposed
Restoration Research Campus in the heart of the former Naval base.
But don't look for that vision to materialize any time soon.
Although state and local leaders are in the throes of signing off on
a deal to formally transfer 82 acres from North Charleston to the Upstate college, they say it will take some time before any noticeable development occurs.
The first buildings won't rise for two or three years.
"We are trying to be very careful about not trying to create false expectations about how quickly things will transpire," said Jan Schach, dean of Clemson's College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities and director of the restorative institute planned around the Hunley submarine.
Clemson hopes to build a 20,000-square-foot building followed by
additional square footage during the first phase of construction to
study marine artifacts and other items, Schach said.
"In the three- to five-year time frame, hopefully there will be
privately constructed buildings on leased land and in five to 15
years, build-out of the campus itself," she said.
When completed, the campus will branch out from the Warren Lasch
Conservation Center, where the first submarine to sink an enemy ship
in battle is being preserved. The Hunley will form the hub of a
restoration institute that could employ nearly 5,000 people and have
a $500 million annual economic impact on the Lowcountry.
"The immediate effect will not be as noticeable as the long-term
effect from the high-tech jobs from technology in the school," North
Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. He said he expects new
industries associated with metallurgical restoration to set up shop
in five to 10 years.
The land transfer agreement, approved by City Council on Feb. 23,
ensures the city will get 50 percent of any property should Clemson
sell it and that any public property leased for private use will
become taxable. The land includes 580 feet of waterfront on the
Cooper River. It is also subject to North Charleston's zoning rules
and is currently zoned for heavy and light industry.
The city can continue to use buildings on the property as long as
Clemson gives the city nine months notice to vacate a building.
If Clemson fails to begin construction of a restoration campus
within five years, or if the university fails to complete the campus
in 25 years, the city can buy back the land for $100.
"I think the agreement is outstanding as far as what it means for
the city," said City Councilman Kurt Taylor, whose district includes
the old Navy base. "We will get a world-class research facility and
if we don't, we get the property back, so it's a well-done deal."
Once title to the land is transferred, Clemson will take over the
lab, and Friends of the Hunley will continue to raise money for the
restoration and 143-year-old vessel's eventual museum home. The
Friends will continue to operate the gift shop and tours of the
Hunley at the Lasch center.
Although Clemson, the city and Friends of the Hunley have signed off
on the deal, it still needs approval of the Hunley Commission and
the state Budget and Control Board.
The state's approval, probably in the next couple of months, will
signify the official property transfer.
"It's just a formality now," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-
Charleston, who chairs the Hunley Commission. "I can't imagine
anyone having a problem with this. It creates a research park in
North Charleston on property that has been depressed for more than a
decade. For the next 20 years, it will create jobs for the
Charleston area. It is, in effect, an economic coup for the city of
North Charleston. It creates a research park that will become the
restorative capital of the world."
The transfer agreement also calls for Clemson to move the Hunley to
a proposed museum by Feb. 1, 2009, a date that could be extended.
The exact location of the museum is not specified. Summey has said
he wants it to go on the northern banks of Noisette Creek across
from Riverfront Park.
"We need to build a center that can really deliver an emotional
experience," McConnell said. "We will look at how to bring virtual
reality to the story of the Hunley."
"Whoever would have thought that when we started this recovery, this project would take us to the limits of technology and now the future of research and become an incubator for the Lowcountry," McConnell said. "It's just a wonderful thing."
Sign up to be a member of the Friends of the Hunley at www.hunley.org