Charleston’s proposed Lowcountry Lowline Park could soon receive a boost of $ 25 million, allaying lingering concerns about funding and transparency, if federal transportation officials approve a request for money from the city.
City council members voted unanimously on June 30 to approve a grant application from the U.S. Department of Transportation and are expected to know by November whether funding is approved.
In the meantime, council members and the mayor said they were eager to give the project a boost after years of uncertainty over how to pay for the park.
“We all agreed that a transformational change to the Lowline would be good for our city in the long run,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg. “How are we going to pay for this has always been the question.”
The city could get $ 5 million in federal funding, with a cap of $ 25 million, for every $ 1 million in local money raised, according to a letter sent to the mayor by Tom Bradford, chairman of the board of Friends. of the Lowline, a non-profit organization in partnership with the city on the project. Fully funded, the grant and local counterpart would bring in $ 30 million to the project.
Bradford has vowed to work with the city to raise local funds to respond to the federally mandated game.
The project has received significant support since the city and the nonprofit teamed up in 2017 to purchase approximately 1.5 miles of unused track and adjacent land from the Virginia-based transport company Norfolk. Southern Corp. for $ 4.84 million.
But the Lowline was not without controversy.
Earlier this year, several board members, led by Keith Waring, who represents a part of West Ashley, raised concerns about the role of the nonprofit in the project and a perceived lack of transparency.
The council voted unanimously on April 13 to donate $ 250,000 in city money to help the group conceive, design and plan the proposed park.
At the time, Waring wondered why the planning, engineering and procurement of the Lowline was not done by city employees. He called for increased transparency if the city sends more money to Friends of the Lowline in the future.
About a month earlier, the city councilor also said he was concerned that the use of the city’s money for the park would limit or delay spending on stormwater repairs in low-income communities in the East. Side, where floodwaters can overwhelm cars and sneak up to people’s doors.
Waring raised similar concerns at the June 30 meeting, saying he was in favor of submitting the application as long as the mayor could ensure the city oversaw the project and the eventual tendering process. .
“We will manage the project,” Tecklenburg said. “It’s a yes.”
City Councilor Ross Appel said the Lowline Project is already bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment on the Charleston Peninsula.
“We’re getting a $ 25 million grant from the federal government… you’ll see development along the boom in Lowline, which in turn will lead to a boom in (funding tax increases), which means we’ll have more money for affordable housing, more money for stormwater projects, freeing up money for West Ashley, ”said Appel. “Very excited about this project. I couldn’t support it more.”
The TIF district would use land tax revenues generated by development in the region to finance public projects, such as drainage and road works, on the East Side.
The linear park, which is expected to cover 1.7 miles as it passes under the overpasses of Interstate 26, has been a priority in Charleston for years. When completed, the Lowline will follow an old railway line that runs along the backbone of the peninsula.
The project is inspired by New York’s High Line Park, which developed from one of Manhattan’s elevated railroad tracks.
Reach Gregory Yee at 843-323-9175. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.