Decision on Hunley museum site delayed


Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Of The Post and Courier Staff


     COLUMBIA-A decision on where the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley museum will go has been postponed for at least 60 days after officials conceded Tuesday that they lack the expertise to evaluate financial packages offered by Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant.
     The Hunley Commission instead decided to turn the bid packages over to the state Budget and Control Board to evaluate such things as projected gate receipts, staffing, construction costs, visitation, and the sub's long-term conservation bills.
     Until that data is collected, most state Hunley Commission members said Tuesday that they felt it was better to delay the final site vote.
     "The feeling I'm getting from the commission now is that there is no consensus," commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said after a nearly three-hour meeting.
     "We don't want to be responsible for a white elephant, and for a major effort of public and private dollars that does not reach its maximum potential," said commission member state Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens.
     The commission is made up mainly of state lawmakers and financial laymen, while the Budget and Control Board has a staff of economists who frequently research the state's money matters.
     The decision to seek outside input also came about an hour after a minor spat arose in the audience Tuesday when Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman said East Cooper's offering would actually be $500,000 richer than previously announced.
     Hallman said gate receipts at the Patriot's Point Maritime Museum have been better than expected this year, which would allow Mount Pleasant to kick in more dollars for their Hunley museum_bid than earlier stated.
     But Hallman's promise of more cash drew an immediate complaint from North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who said none of the towns in the running should be allowed to amend their bid packages beyond what they submitted for the March cutoff.
     "You open up a bidding war, and_that is not supposed to transpire," Summey said afterward. He contends that allowing unilateral changes now would be "unfair, if not questionable," and hurt the chances of the other cities.
     Hallman then offered to rescind the added cash.
     The decision to postpone the site-selection vote means Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant will have to wait until at least October to see who gets to be home for a museum honoring the world's first attack sub.
     Charleston has offered about $5 million for a $29.5 million museum. Mount Pleasant, in a partnership with Patriot's Point, has promised about $7 million over 10 years for a $28.5 million museum, while North Charleston has offered $11 million for a $40 million facility.
     The delay means no added danger to the sub, which is undergoing a years-long conservation effort at the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston. It was raised from the ocean floor two years ago.
     "This will probably be the No. 1 tourist attraction in South Carolina if not one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world," said McConnell, also a Charleston state senator.
     He said the extra review might also be a blessing because it could uncover weaknesses in the plans if the figures offered now actually fall short of future needs. "Ultimately, we've got to look at the bottom line 10 or 15 years down the road," he said.
     The city of Charleston seemed under-represented at Tuesday's meeting, which originally was called to make the site pick. While Mount Pleasant and North Charleston sent their mayors and multi-person delegations, Charleston sent only one representative - Tracy Vaughn, the city's director of technology and graphic information systems.
     Vaughn said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. could not attend because of a City Council meeting Tuesday night.
     McConnell earlier said that Charleston's chances of winning were low, partly because the city's financial offer wasn't enough.
     The other major announcement Tuesday was that officials are looking at burying the sub's final eight crewmen in the fall of 2003, although no date was set. Those crewmen sailed into history on the night of Feb. 17, 1864 when the Hunley rammed a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic four miles off Charleston. The sub never returned.
     The Budget and Control Board review should be completed in about 45 days, and McConnell said a commission meeting would be called about two weeks later.

     Schuyler Kropf covers state and local politics. Contact him at or 937-5551.
    Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net




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