Big Comeback in Park Circle

As the Great Recession grips many American cities, one South Carolina neighborhood has rocketed to national notoriety as a success story — Park Circle in North Charleston, South Carolina.

In August 2011, Bloomberg Business Week named North Charleston one of “America’s Most Fun, Affordable Cities”. Similar honors have recently come the City’s way, notably Men’s Journal magazine, which listed Park Circle as one of the nation’s “coolest cities” in 2008.

Nationally, North Charleston has received awards an grants for sustainable community redevelopment from such prestigious non-profits as the Home Depot Foundation and National League of Cities.

That is an impressive track record for a City once projected to become a “ghost town” by the national media, due to the closure in 1996 of the former Charleston Naval Base. Largely, the key to North Charleston’s success lies in a City-backed sustainable revitalization of its urban core.

In the early 2000s, a Comprehensive Plan was outlined by the City and its private sector partners to redevelop the historic neighborhoods of the region, targeting 3,000 acres that included the northern end of the former base. Ongoing infrastructure needs were addressed through the establishment of a Tax Increment Financing District, or TIF, with bonds supported by the state legislature.

Today, the redevelopment plan serves as a catalyst for Park Circle. A major objective of the City’s plan was to attract young families by creating infill neighborhoods in Park Circle. The Park Circle area dates back to the late 19th Century, in a development footprint conceived by the legendary landscape architect William Bell Marquis.

New residential neighborhoods have blossomed in Park Circle for the first time in a half century. Investors are developing sustainable residential developments like Hunley Waters by the UK-based Cobalt Investments, Ltd. A gated, waterfront community Hunley Waters offers backdoor access to kayaking and water sports. The development includes NAHB-certified homes, with some 36 home sites. With home prices starting in the high 100s, it stands out as a major bargain in the Park Circle neighborhood.

“Hunley Waters is strategically located in the geographic center of the Charleston area,” says developer Chris Swan. “East Montague Avenue is just three minutes away, with its shops and restaurants. It’s ten minutes from the airport, and within five minutes of all major interstates. That location, in a trendy, rebuilding green community, offers a lifestyle and homeowner investment that’s hard to match in the Southeast US.”

The City’s amenities and cultural opportunities have exploded over the past six years. The once-blighted East Montague corridor is now home to an authentic Irish pub, upscale restaurants, music clubs, a theater company, an art house movie theater, and the first LEED Platinium building in South Carolina, headquarters for Half Moon Outfitters. The City’s investment of $1 million in TIF bonds provided extensive landscaping to enhance the streetscape plan.

Nearby, on the Cooper River, lies the North Charleston Riverfront Park, a $6 million, 13-acre public space perched on the former naval base. The park serves as an outdoor exhibit space for a national sculpture competition, in addition to its role for community concerts like the annual Fourth of July Celebration.

The City is openly embracing the concept of a diverse community, as its overall population is 51 percent Latino and African American. The Gay Community is widely accepted in Park Circle, with the Charleston Gay Pride Festival parade each Spring. This is first event of its kind in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

World class public schools are a provocative lure for young families, as well. The Academic Magnet High School in Park Circle has been annually named as one of the nation’s “Top 15″ high schools in the nation by Newsweek and US News & World Report.

Economic development, particularly in this recession, is crucial. The Boeing Company in North Charleston is currently hiring 1,000 workers for its 787 Dreamliner assembly plant near the Charleston International Airport.

Adjacent to Park Circle, the federal government’s SPAWAR complex is building a critical mass of knowledge workers for a technology-based economy. The Clemson University Restoration Institute, or CURI, on the former base, is building the world’s largest wind turbine testing facility. The CURI project portends the birth of a new green energy economy in North Charleston, projected to generate more than 20,000 jobs within the next 20 years.

The City’s newfound technology employment base relies heavily on the “Creative Class”, identified by University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida. Basically, Florida sees the growth of creative professionals that produce innovative commercial products as a sign of region reinventing its economic base.

This burgeoning Creative Class has an impact. A cutting-edge arts community has emerged in Park Circle, punctuated by individual sculptors and visual artists. Events like Kulture Klash, an arts rave, attracts some 5,000 patrons to its bi-annual celebration of multi-media creativity.

“Definitely, the revitalization of North Charleston has set the foundation for a nationally-known green community,” concludes Swan. “Once the US and Western Europe pull out of this recession, you will see North Charleston increasingly emerge as one of America’s leading creative, sustainable cities.”

Dale Moore is the Community Manager for the Hunley Waters neighborhood. He can be reached at [email protected], or 843-294-4990.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *