The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has chosen a new site for a long-awaited public skatepark. The commission approved a contract Monday night to buy land for the park in the Neck, a strip of land connecting Charleston and North Charleston between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
The commission voted to approve $850,000 from its Capital Improvement Projects budget for the purchase of property at 1593 Oceanic St. (see map below), which consists of 3.3 acres of highland and 21.9 acres of marsh within view of I-26 and the stalled Magnolia development. The usable land area is more than three times the space allotted for the park at the original planned site, which was situated under the Highway 17 overpass farther south on Meeting Street.
"We're hoping that we can probably start construction in January or February," said Park and Rec Executive Director Tom O'Rourke. "And if they have five or six months to build, which is enough time, they could be skating by the end of next summer."
The site is on a frontage road just west of I-26, and it will be visible to drivers entering the city from the north. It lies between two cemeteries, Adverse Cemetery to the south and Monrovia Cemetery to the north (as part of the deal, a portion of the property will be donated to Monrovia Cemetery). The site is also just south of the failed Magnolia development, 200 acres of former industrial land that was once slated for residential and office development but that was auctioned off in a delinquent-tax sale in 2011. The marshland included in the property passes under a $10 million bridge that was built to connect the development to Petty Street. The bridge is closed to vehicle traffic but open to pedestrians.
Shannon Smith, director of skatepark advocacy group Pour It Now, has been pushing for a public skatepark for well over a decade, and she calls the new site "a blank canvas" for skatepark designer Tito Porrata and Team Pain, the Florida-based company hired by the county to design the park. "We're really stoked on the location," Smith says. "Especially since it's so central, it'll be really easy for everybody in different communities to get to."
O'Rourke says the land could have a variety of uses. "This is not a skatepark site. This is a park site that happens to have a skatepark on it," O'Rourke says. "We feel like with the bicycle lanes and the opportunity for the Low Line, which is a pedestrian trail going all the way from Park Circle to Charleston, this could be an excellent place for people to come, park a car, take a walk, take a bike ride. There could be some outdoor-adventure-type things that go on at this site over and above skating."
The Park and Rec Commission voted at a previous meeting to allow Team Pain to begin design work as soon as a contract is signed, and O'Rourke says the current owners will allow the county to lease the land before the sale is closed so that construction can begin as soon as possible.
The site is not perfect. It is currently under Gathering Place zoning, a mixed-use category that would require any structures be built near the road. But since the portion of the property directly adjacent to Oceanic Street is set aside as an SCE&G easement, the county will have to seek a zoning variance. The property also contains at least two billboards, and the skatepark and parking lot will have to be built around them.
Still, those difficulties pale in comparison to the myriad highway regulations that ultimately doomed the previous site under the US-17 overpass. The county abandoned that plan in July after stringent demands from state and federal authorities drove the construction cost estimate up from $2 million to $3.8 million. The county also briefly considered building the skatepark on property adjacent to James Island County Park and at the current site of a recycling center on Romney Street.