Local nonprofit Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline announced Monday that it has entered into an agreement with Norfolk Southern Corp. to purchase the 1.7-mile strip of land that stretches from Woolfe Street to just north of Mt. Pleasant Street on the peninsula. Although no specific price was revealed, the group has two years to raise the money necessary to purchase the land. The ultimate goal for the project is to transform the space into a public park that connects the neighborhoods along the peninsula that were divided by the construction of Interstate 26.
Those leading the development envision the proposed park as Charleston’s own version of New York City’s High Line, a 1.5-mile linear park built along an abandoned elevated rail line in Manhattan that has become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. The obvious difference between the two greenways is that while the High Line rises above Manhattan’s lower west side, giving visitors an escape from the city’s urban environment, the Lowline will sit at ground level and run under interstate overpasses. A great deal of work will be needed to convert the area surrounding Charleston’s disused rail line into the main attraction that project leaders envision.
“What we call the Lowline last carried freight, actually newsprint, to the Post & Courier
eight or 10 years ago,” says Tom Bradford, board president of Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline. “Since that time, this railroad has sat there rotting. The ties you’ll see are falling apart, the rails rusted, actually wavering all over the place.”
For Bradford and others behind the project, the Lowline is about more than just creating a new park. It’s about bringing together communities throughout the Charleston peninsula and beyond.
“We think this is a great way to start connecting the lower part of the peninsula to the upper part of the peninsula and eventually on to the North Charleston and Park Circle,” says Mike Messner who launched Red Fields to Green Fields, a project that turns underperforming real estate into new green spaces. “It’s just a keystone in the future of development of the area, and not only park development, but the overall development for a very livable peninsula.”
According to Messner, the Lowline project could have connections to the Ravenel Bridge, Hampton Park, five schools along the route, and a possible park to be placed along Upper King Street on the current U-Haul property. While funding for the project has yet to be secured and no designs for the park have been presented, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. voiced his support for the project and asked that the city’s future leaders help make the Lowline a reality.
“Our neighborhoods are divided that needn’t be. Our citizens in part of our city lack green space and recreational opportunities when more could be available,” says the mayor. “We’ve seen in other cities and we know intuitively when you enhance a forlorn space, it creates opportunities for economic development, opportunities and places for people to live and people to work.”
During Monday’s presentation, the Lowline project drew comparisons to New York City’s Central Park from John Alschuler, the chairman for HR&A Advisors, who played a role in the development of the High Line and Daniel Island.
“As you walk along the Lowline, you see older, industrial neighborhoods. You seen wonderful neighborhoods with historic fabric. You see a whole emerging part of Charleston,” says Alschuler, “and you can imagine that the Lowline becomes a new Central Park for a new, reimagined, reinvigorated, rejuvenated, great, historic city, which is the treasure of a city that you call home.”
Raising the necessary funding and getting the city’s full support behind the project are now the main goals for Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline. Organizers say they will begin to reach out to those who live and work along the route to get input as the project takes shape. Although any work on the Lowline is still years away, the time to hear from the community is now.
“I really think about it as an opportunity to join many different people, many different cultures, many different economic groups, and interests to share a common goal of inhabiting this remarkable asset that we have in the city. I think connections in this sense has to go beyond the physical and go to the culture and nature of who we are as a people in Charleston,” says Ray Huff, head of the community relations committee for Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline. “One of the things that we have to do is we’ve got to ensure that we have all the voices in this city involved in this process. Nothing’s been designed. The only thing that’s happened is the land has been acquired.”
The vision of a new greenway that runs along the unused rail line between King and Meeting streets is one step closer to becoming a reality.