Three suitors compete to take the sub home

Of The Post and Courier Staff

     The last time this many people were chasing after the Hunley, there were Union ships bombarding the harbor.
     On Friday, officials from Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant scrambled to submit proposals to build a new maritime museum for the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. As the 3 p.m. deadline grew closer, North Charleston officials were anxious at the airport, Mount Pleasant was hosting re-enactors in the rain, and Charleston was racing the clock.
     And from there, it turned into a mad dash to deliver three top-_secret proposals to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center on the old Navy base.
     Although none of the cities would reveal their elaborate plans for the Hunley, all three mayors claimed historical high ground, and all thought they offered the best for the fish-boat's future.
     North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said his city was the historical anchor of maritime history in the region. The Hunley is a _natural fit for the area, he proclaimed.
     "The folks that were on the Hunley were a spectrum of the working class of Americans that put their life on the line for their belief in their country," Summey said. "That's what North Charleston is made up of."
     Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman said his town is where the submarine was refitted and docked before it sank the Housatonic and that the sub's crew spent its final night in the old village. Besides, he said, Patriot's Point is already South Carolina's premiere maritime military museum. The sub is a perfect fit.
     "For the sake of the Hunley and the visitors who will come to see it, I hope our chances are extremely good," Hallman said.
     Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said that a location along the waterfront near the South Carolina Aquarium lends itself best to presenting the Hunley story. It is near that spot where the submarine arrived by rail from Mobile, Ala., in 1863, and it is there the Hunley was brought after it sank for the second time.
     Also, you could see the Hunley Housatonic battlefield from the site where Charleston wants to build its museum.
     "It has amazingly significant historical relevance," Riley said.
     The three cities had several criteria to meet in their proposals before they would be considered: They had to offer a museum of at least 40,000 square feet, have a waterfront location and a plan for keeping the Hunley a high-profile tourism draw. The Hunley Commission, the state agency set up to manage the submarine, will evaluate the proposals by committee beginning next week. The whole process, which will include oral presentations open to the public, could take a couple of months or more.
     The proposals arrived in varying states of pomp and circumstance Friday.
     In Mount Pleasant, a group of Confederate Infantry re-enactors stood quietly at attention as dignitaries nailed the lid on a heavy wooden provisions crate with the legend "H.L. Hunley, Completing the Journey, Patriots Point, Mt. Pleasant" fired on it. Inside, beneath a parchment reproduction of Harper's Weekly, were eight Confederate rucksacks - one for each member of the Hunley Commission. Each rucksack held a copy of Mount Pleasant's proposal and various odds and ends that might be found in a Rebel soldier's pack - a comb, a toothbrush.
     After team members shut the box, the re-enactors carried it by its rope handles down Ferry Street, recreating the final walk of Lt. George E. Dixon and the third crew of the Hunley. Local legend says the crew stayed at a house on Ferry Street the night before the Hunley sank the Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864.
     "We feel like it's significant for us to bring the proposal here to send it off symbolically," Hallman said.
     Mount Pleasant wants to build a new building on existing land at Patriot's Point - on the water and along a new boulevard that will be completed long before the museum would open seven or eight years from now.
     Hallman said Mount Pleasant's proposal also included funding for the work being done on the sub while it is in its Navy base lab.
     Friday morning, North Charleston's proposal was still in Charlotte, having missed a Federal Express deadline. So Summey hung out at the airport, waiting for his city's plans to arrive on a commercial jet. When they arrived, he rushed back to City Hall, put a new cover sheet on the proposal and took it - with a police escort - to the lab. He would take no chances with traffic.
     Summey arrived with a cardboard box filled with copies of the North Charleston proposal while the Mount Pleasant contingent was dropping off its crate. Summey was confident his city's plan was the best.
     "This is a personal thing to me and for our community," he said. "Quite honestly, I think we have put together a proposal that is going to make some heads move."
     North Charleston wants to make the Hunley museum a centerpiece of the waterfront park it is developing as part of the 3,000-acre Noisette project on the city's south side. Summey said the proposal was developed using the expertise of the Noisette Co. and some of the nation's premiere museum designers and planners.
     Unlike the other two cities, Charleston's proposal was delivered understated in a manila folder 10 minutes before the deadline. Riley said the city did not want to make a big media splash surrounding its proposal; that he didn't want to treat the sub as a prize to be won. It is, he said, about "what is the best-quality location for this museum to be successful."
     Charleston is proposing to build a Hunley museum on Charleston Harbor next to the National Park Service's Fort Sumter Tour Boat facility off Liberty Square.
     The site is currently owned_by the Campsen family, but_is being acquired by the Park_Service.
     Riley said building next to the Fort Sumter tour boat facility would link Charleston's two major Civil War experiences and offer a view of the waters where the Hunley sailed in 1863 and 1864.
     "You can look out from Charleston to the ocean and to where the Housatonic was sunk, and to where the Hunley was brought back from," he said.
     Riley also thinks the Hunley and the other waterfront attractions, such as the aquarium and IMAX theater, would complement each other and benefit from each other's visitors.
     The Hunley Museum, wherever it goes, might not open before the end of the decade. Scientists are working to restore the submarine, recovered from the Atlantic in August 2000, and say it could take another five to seven years to refurbish it and stabilize the hull enough for it to go on public display.
     Still, the decision on where to build will be made much sooner. The Hunley Commission will make each of the cities' proposals public sometime next week, and the hearings - along with the lobbying and the sniping - will begin shortly thereafter.
     Hunley Commission Chairman Sen. Glenn McConnell has said the commission will weigh every aspect of every plan based on a single, overriding criteria: what is best for the Hunley.
     The only certainty for now is that two of these cities will have hurt feelings.
     Schuyler Kropf and James Scott of The Post and Courier staff contributed to this report.

Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net




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