McConnell says city's parking plan, financing offer less than other proposals
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The city of Charleston appears to have lost out on its chance of landing the Confederate submarine Hunley museum after the key decision-makers said the city's financial offer falls short, and so does its parking plan.
State Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the Hunley Commission, said Wednesday that the Patriot's Point plan wins out over Charleston's on both counts.
"Why would you go downtown and charge for parking when you get more money and free parking in Mount Pleasant?" he said.
If McConnell's opinion holds, then the battle to house the sub now turns into a duel between Mount Pleasant and North Charleston.
On that point, McConnell seemed to nod in favor of Mount Pleasant over North Charleston, partly because Patriot's Point is home to a state facility, the USS Yorktown, and other vessels, and already has a marketing recognition as a maritime museum.
North Charleston's site at the old Navy base "has unlimited parking, and it has more money," McConnell said. "However, nothing is there yet."
But he said other questions remain unanswered, such as whether it is better for the Hunley to be at a single draw location, as it would be in North Charleston, or be placed in a mix of attractions, as it would with the military ships at Patriot's Point.
McConnell's comments come as the decision-making on where the museum will go has mostly languished for more than a month while he and other lawmakers have been preoccupied with the Legislature. The commission probably will meet again in late May to review the offers. A final decision would come no earlier than June, he said.
The strikes against Charleston, McConnell said, include visitors having to pay to park in a garage and walk across Liberty Square to the proposed sub museum site. He also questioned whether the sub museum would suffer by being sandwiched between competing attractions like the S.C. Aquarium and the tour boats to Fort Sumter. Money also was an issue. Charleston has proposed giving more than $4 million to the project, while North Charleston has offered about $11 million and Mount Pleasant roughly $7 million.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said Wednesday he still contends the city's offer is the best, and he isn't giving up.
"Concerning the money, we feel very competitive," he said, adding that $4 million up front is equitable to $6 million or $7 million over time.
He promised a top-notch museum and pointed to the city's baseball park, maritime center and other projects. "Our track record of assembling resources speaks for itself very well."
Also, he said that most tourists who come to the area end up on the peninsula and aren't reluctant to use the 1,100-space parking garage or the bus system to get around.
"More people would pay admission to the Hunley museum at this location than any others," he said.
Charleston has a definite advantage in terms of numbers of visitors. About 3.9 million people visit the city every year, and 500,000 pay to visit the aquarium. About 300,000 pay to visit the museum at Patriot's Point each year.
Although he said nothing is final about picking a site, McConnell said the commission has agreed that it will form a consensus opinion on finalizing its one choice. "There won't be any 6-3 or 5-4 votes," he said.
"If I were voting today ... my assessment is that Mount Pleasant has a distinct advantage over the city of Charleston," McConnell said.
But Mount Pleasant still has a lot of questions hanging, he added, such as splitting up the gate and responsibility for maintaining the parking lot. McConnell said he wanted to explore tickets and draws and may even contact some of the parties for more information.
Schuyler Kropf covers state and local politics. Contact him at email@example.com or 937-5551.