Should there be a park at “The Pig”?

by John Steinberger | April 22, 2017 11:10 am

Rumors are swirling that the City of Charleston is interested in purchasing the property formerly occupied by Piggly Wiggly at “suicide merge” at Sam Rittenberg Blvd. and Old Towne Rd. and converting the 2.5 acre parcel into a park. Faison Enterprises of Charlotte purchased the property three years ago for $1.95 Million.

If Faison does not want to sell the property, the city has the option of condemning it and purchasing it through eminent domain. The fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows private property to be purchased by governments for public use for market value compensation. It is ordinarily reserved for infrastructure projects, such as the proposed completion of I-526. It is unclear whether Faison intends to sell the property.

In 2016, Faison had a contract with Sunoco to build a 20-pump gas station and convenience store on the property, designated as 43 Sumar St. That development plan sparked the ire of residents in the surrounding Old Charles Towne District neighborhoods. Standing room only crowds packed the Design Review Board hearings on the project and expressed their objections. The primary point of opposition was that the gas station design did not reflect the property’s Gateway To Charleston status. The board twice rejected the design submissions and Sunoco’s contract with Faison was dissolved.

The 43 Sumar property has been vacant since 2013 and is clearly an eyesore. Visitors coming off of I-26 to visit Folly Beach or shop at the Auto Mile see a cluster of overgrown shrubs which are nearly three stories tall and an abandoned building. Local residents with the Old Charles Towne District Task Force teamed with City of Charleston planners to develop a drawing to redesign the Gateway and the surrounding Ashley Landing shopping center. The design was released in 2000 and was never acted upon by City Council. It featured a clock tower at the point of “suicide merge”, attractive landscaping and crosswalks to allow safe pedestrian traffic to pass from the neighborhoods to the shopping center.

Anyone who has recently visited Ashley Landing has surely noticed the new retail sites and improved landscaping on the property. A Starbucks with a drive-through window and lots of meeting space now lines Sam Rittenberg. The Frothy Beard brewery and Zombie Bob’s pizzeria recently opened nearby and has quickly become a popular gathering spot. A 20,000 square foot retail space along Sam Rittenberg is now under construction. Amish Furniture, featuring hand-crafted indoor and outdoor furnishings, is slated to open in May.

Given Faison’s ability to land quality retailers and beautify the property, there is every reason to believe that they can find a quality tenant at 43 Sumar. Rumors are flying that Aldi’s, a discount grocery chain, is interested in the property. The chain operates 1500 stores in 31 states and now has stores in Mt. Pleasant and Summerville.

Aldi’s was founded by the Albrecht brothers in West Germany after World War II. The family business eventually split into North and South divisions. The North division launched the Trader Joe’s franchise in America. The South division now operates Aldi’s.

The trademark of Aldi’s is that of a no-frills grocery store. Customers must pay a 25 cent refundable deposit to use a shopping cart and are expected to bring their own bags and bag their own groceries. It features a variety of organic and gluten-free products at prices below its niche grocery competitors.

I think it is a bad idea for the City to purchase a viable retail property. The site is not suitable for a park with the traffic and the noise. I do think the City should use a share of the 2% hospitality tax that we pay for food and beverages for landscaping at the “suicide merge”, as well as some sort of Welcome To Charleston gateway feature. The City should also use money from the newly approved Tax Incremental Finance District (TIF), which stretches from Citadel Mall to the North Bridge, to install the crosswalks envisioned in the March 2000 drawing.

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