Georgetown, South Carolina — Advisory Services Panel

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Date: September 18-23, 2016

Location: Georgetown, South Carolina

Sponsor: City and County of Georgetown

Subject Area: Waterfront Development and Reuse, Placemaking, and Municipal Leadership

Panel Chair: Alex Rose, Senior Vice President, Development, Continental Development Corporation

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Background and Panel Assignment

image2The City of Georgetown, population approximately 9,062 (2015 Estimate), is an hour south of Myrtle Beach and an hour and half north of Charleston along U.S. 17 on the Sampit River near the Atlantic Ocean coast. In May 2015, ArcelorMittal announced that they would be permanently shutting down their Georgetown steel mill which has been a major employer since the 1960’s. In addition, the Port of Georgetown is also facing closure due to a lack of dredging and dwindling usage. This uncertainty led the City and County of Georgetown seek advice from the Urban Land Institute to recommend strategies and next steps for the approximately 150 Acres of industrial waterfront parcels which consists of the ArcelorMittal steel mill, the South Carolina State Ports Authority’s Port of Georgetown, and a few smaller tracts. The study area or site is partially located within the City of Georgetown and unincorporated areas of Georgetown County.

The panel was asked to respond to the following issues:

  • Market conditions, economic development, and economic sustainability and diversity, with a goal of conceptualizing the redevelopment as a multifaceted place that leverages Georgetown’s unique assets and enhances the greater community’s economic development efforts, including the recruitment of skilled manufacturing;
  • Placemaking, neighborhood cohesion, and community engagement, with a goal of recommending strategies for developing creative, vibrant places that benefit the surrounding neighborhoods; attract new residents, businesses; and visitors to Georgetown; and boost the community’s quality of life; and
  • Infrastructure, incentives, and next steps to redevelopment, with a goal of recommending short- and long-term steps that local officials need to take to engage qualified development firms, as well as strategies to direct the redevelopment process in the best interest of the community.

Georgetown faces an accelerating economic crisis, job loss and degradation and deepening social imbalance. The implications of stagnant growth, low incomes and an aging population in the City of Georgetown pose substantial challenges for a market-driven solution at the Site. At the same time, the Georgetown communities have the rare opportunity for a community to reimagine and revitalize a key and highly visible 150-acre waterfront site. The very size of the land involved, the complexity of its history, its ownership, its place in the physical and economic landscape of the Georgetown communities and the physical, economic and social challenges and opportunities faced by the Georgetown communities dictate the need for a thoughtful, comprehensive and far-looking vision, process, plan and resources to overcome those challenges and capture those opportunities.

Summary of Recommendations

In order to accomplish the complex and difficult task of redevelopment of the Site, without taking short-sighted fixes, the Panel established ten guiding principles for redevelopment. These principals are listed below in no particular order of importance.

  • The planning and execution for reuse of the Site must recognize but not be tied to the historic context of the Georgetown community – its heritage, culture, neighborhoods, natural settings and community assets. The plan must not only celebrate the richness of the community’s past but must proactively face and resolve the difficulties and challenges of the past, including employment, educational opportunities and attainment, condition of infrastructure and housing, and social. This means that the proper vison and consequent plan must look to and address and benefit Georgetown holistically.
  • The Site is and must continue to be a catalyst for transformative change. The Site is an incubator – metaphorically, physically, economically. It is the starting place for the new Georgetown – a new economic/jobs driven revitalization that does not threaten but rather enhances the existing unique, post-industrial Georgetown economic base. This process could not begin or evolve anywhere else in the City.
  • The Georgetown community’s control of the Site is indispensable – whether by ownership, regulation and administration, or a combination of both.
  • The ultimate plan for the Site must be simultaneously aspirational and challenging to the status quo.
  • The Site represents a historic opportunity in terms of community planning in the broadest sense of that term – physically, economically, socially. This is where Georgetown should place its bet on the future and act as a bridge between the various communities of Georgetown.
  • The plan for the Site must facilitate and encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking which will, in turn and over time, seed more established and diverse jobs and consequent investment in the community. Job and economic growth does not start with the elusive employer suddenly bringing to the community hundreds of jobs. Instead, craftsman, established and emerging players in recreation and lifestyle, pioneers in art, culture, food – they all seize upon these assets, thrive and grow. These assets already exist in Georgetown.
  • The plan for the Site must capture, protect, enhance and leverage the unique recreational and cultural assets which have always defined the City of Georgetown. Jobs tied to these Georgetown assets can be immediate and are a critical economic base upon which to grow and achieve the longer term, diverse economic objectives of the vision.
  • The public sector must place the first stake in the ground in order for the private sector to undertake the major portion of invested time and at risk capital needed to effect the desired transformational change. Any plan for the Site must evolve from the full engagement of the Georgetown communities – everyone must be at the table and engaged. Plans for the site must be responsible in the use of public resources, be they land or capital.
  • The plan for the Site must accommodate and facilitate changes created by the ripple effect.  By executing change on the Site, multi-directional change will be sparked in the surrounding Georgetown neighborhoods and Georgetown’s regional assets. Change emanating from the Site offers the opportunity to preserve and enhance the pre-existing positive assets of the surrounding areas – physical, cultural, social economic. Historical physical and social barriers are lowered, blending into a more holistic Georgetown, while still retaining the distinct characteristics that make each block and neighborhood uniquely Georgetown.
  • The plan for the Site must recognize that the Site is not homogenous and that lack of homogeneity, combined with its pivotal location and size does represent its greatest opportunities. The Site is appropriate for and can be broken into many pieces – each exerting its own impact on economic growth but tied together by common vision. This is essential since ownership and control is varied as well as timing of availability for reuse is varied. The timeframe for reuse starts now but will likely extend of 20 years or more.

 

Implement the plan

image3The public sector will need to intervene early-on to provide incentives and assurances of longer-term participation to provide redevelopment and economic development momentum. Further, local educational and non-profit institutions will likely need to play a role in the realization of the development vision, either as partners and/or as end-users. With its size and location, the potential exists to generate demand on the Site as the vision is implemented, creating synergies among the various land uses to provide support for successful redevelopment

Initial public investments should include access-driven horizontal infrastructure, such as those intended to support connectivity and circulation. Other public investments include civic buildings, the Georgetown Commons, waterfront park, and marine uses like public docks and working docks. This will help reduce the risk for private investments.

Investments by either public, institutional, or private sources should support activation of spaces through placemaking. Interim uses should highlight arts and culture and support small business development.

 

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