Charleston City Council considering contract to develop a smokestacks preservation plan

Updated: Oct. 26, 2020 at 3:33 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston City Council is considering taking steps to preserve the smokestacks in the Eastside Community. This comes after the community’s push to save them when the city said the smokestacks were deemed structurally deficient.

The smokestacks are located at the St. Julian Devine Community Center on Drake Street in downtown Charleston.

Charleston leaders considered a removal due to the safety concerns until there was push back. City staff say the stacks are at risk of falling on homes nearby during a hurricane or earthquake.

City officials say they’re working to find a resolution soon.

Residents in the Eastside community want it to be preserved including the President of the Eastside Community Development Corporation, Latonya Gamble.

“It’s an important part of our history, it has some African American history, it has some industrial history," said Gamble. "It has a beautiful skyline and it gives our neighborhood character.”

On Tuesday, Charleston City Council will vote on whether they should approve a contract with an engineering firm to come up with a plan to preserve the 135-feet smokestacks.

The contract could cost up to $200,000. It’s a fraction of the $3 million price tag to preserve them.

The Executive Director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, Kristopher King, supports the preservation.

“A lot of people have asked why preserve the smokestacks, people say it’s not a grand house," King said. “Preservation is not about grand old buildings all the time. It’s about what the community values. The smokestacks tell an important part of history of the Eastside.”

Charleston area preservation groups and people in the Eastside community say the smokestacks are part of Charleston’s industrial history. They were used to incinerate trash.

“One of our elders in the community said that her relatives worked there, and she said it was one of the jobs that women got decent wages and she just wanted to preserve that," Gamble said.

If the city approves complete preservation, the city says the money could come from fund reserves and property tax generated funds from the Cooper River Bridge Tax Increment Financing, which is not a tax increase.

However, about half of the funds are slated to come from fundraising efforts.

City officials say a newly developed committee is tasked with coming up with funding sources and discussing future plans for the smokestacks. City officials say the committee is made up of two council members, people from the neighborhood association, preservation group representatives and city staff.

King is part of the committee. He believes the city should pursue a second option to see if costs for preserving the smokestacks could be lower. The Preservation Society of Charleston has offered to pay for the second opinion on restoration plans.

“We continue to believe that a second opinion is critical as we know that there are alternative methods that can be used to salvage and save these," King said. "We think that before the city agrees to spend a half million dollars or $3 million, you have to do your due diligence and that’s what we want to see happen.”

The city has also discussed other options for the smokestacks which include preserving about half the stacks for a cost of about $1.5 million or removing them for a cost of about $500,000.

City officials say the smokestacks are being inspected again on Tuesday. It will take about five days to get that report.

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