By Susan Hill Smith, Island Eye News Staff Writer
Refined estimates of the latest Isle of Palms Marina redevelopment plans put the price tag at $6.4 million – $2.3 million more than the last time potential costs were given to the public. Yet, City Council has not finished scrutinizing the plans, which are still in committee, or set a timetable for an expected voter referendum on the project.
“We’re going to have to take a very close look at all those expenses,” Councilmember Barbara Bergwerf, who chairs the Real Property Committee, reported at the full council’s March 21 meeting.
She added, “We also need to take a serious look at how to plan if we have to do a phased construction – what would be the recommendation, along with the associated costs.”
The full council did not discuss the issue after Bergwerf’s report. The Real Property Committee will likely look more closely at details from Applied Technology & Management, the firm overseeing the project, when the committee meets again April 3.
Meanwhile, the city must wait until May to learn whether it will receive a federal Boating Infrastructure Grant of up to $450,000 that could be put toward the project but must be used to support large recreational “transient” boats that travel along the coast and help generate BIG funds through taxes and import duties.
Council could place a marina redevelopment referendum on the November ballot, which will otherwise include races for mayor and four other council seats.
“That’s certainly something that’s being discussed, but right now I don’t think anyone knows what the referendum question would be,” City Administrator Linda Tucker told Island Eye News.
To get the question ready for the ballot, council members will need to decide which of the plan’s components to include and how much the city would need to borrow to pay for them. If council can accomplish that by August, the city can conveniently add the question to the November ballot. But council isn’t required to time a referendum question to coincide with a regular election.
“A special election for a referendum could be done at any time as long as we meet the requirements for public notice and all of the things that are involved,” Tucker said.
Isle of Palms voters approved buying the marina through a special referendum in the late 1990s when it looked like the privately owned property would otherwise be sold and developed into condominiums and other residential units. The sentiment was to preserve and boost access to the water for the people of the island, said Tucker, who lived on Isle of Palms but was not city administrator at the time. “Ever since the city acquired the site, it has always been the vision that the city would improve the site.”
While other city projects – like enhancement of the city’s Front Beach streetscape – and pressing issues – such as beach renourishment – pushed back the marina overhaul, the city has moved the project to the forefront over the past year, and has given residents the opportunity to offer input on potential options. The push is not only to enhance access and solve long-term problems like parking but also make the marina more of a community focal point.
Situated on Morgan Creek on the Intracoastal Waterway, Isle of Palms Marina currently provides a public boat launch – which residents can use at a discount – as well as rentals, charters and watersport outfitters. The site also offers the Marina Market – which sells a variety of supplies and has a small deli/grill – and Morgan Creek Grill, which offers upscale and casual dining with striking views.
ATM’s Kirby Marshall reviewed the new estimate for redevelopment costs with the Real Property Committee at the meeting March 21. Increases over the original estimate given last year include an added $650,000 for dredging.
Other added expenses would go toward restrooms, a tractor shed, parking meter IT support, dumpster screening, signs, more fire protection, a cantilevered boardwalk by Morgan Creek Grill and a pedestrian bridge so people can cross from the restaurant side to the Marina Market side without crossing in front of boats that are preparing to launch.
Compared to previous plans, the latest plan has extra costs for more sidewalk, gangways and floating dock square footage. Plus it will require increased quantities of asphalt and gravel.
As far as parking, the design that ATM shared with the committee marks off 149 spaces for cars, 57 spots for trucks with boat trailers and 41 golf cart spaces.