[image-1]Plans are still in their infancy, but the establishment of a new Medical District in Charleston could have a major effect on those living on the peninsula.

Receiving approval from the city last week, the Medical University of South Carolina, Roper Hospital, and Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center will move ahead with plans to transform existing properties downtown to offer more green space, enhance pedestrian access, provide additional parking, and make the area easier to navigate.

Those behind the project hope to redevelop the core of the campus at Doughty Street into a pedestrian mall and use traffic-calming techniques to make Courtenay Drive more pedestrian friendly. In addition to added green space, early plans include extending Courtenay Drive south beyond Calhoun Street and establishing a waterfront park surrounding Long Lake, which sits between Lockwood Drive and Halsey Boulevard.

“Right now, Courtenay runs from Calhoun essentially to the Crosstown. We propose to extend that across Calhoun and terminate toward the south at Long Lake. Everybody has seen it. You drive by it when you go to Lockwood, but nobody ever thinks about it,” says Ray Huff, director of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston. “It’s this extraordinary urban asset that we have just sort of ignored. We said, ‘Let’s make that a pod and connect it by extending Courtnenay.’ Then hopefully at some point in the future that whole water body, the edge can be developed into an extraordinary promenade. What a beautiful asset.”

[image-2]The new push for the proposed Medical District stems from a conversation between MUSC President David Cole and Roper St. Francis President David Dunlap. While discussing a proposed parking garage for Roper St. Francis, an agreement was struck that allowed Roper Hospital to continue leasing parking spaces in MUSC garages while both hospitals collaborated with the city to develop a designated Medical District, which would include the construction of a new parking garage at Courtenay Drive and Bee Street. According to Huff, aside from the additional parking and plans to link the upper west side of the peninsula to the lower section, the redesigned Medical District will create a more hospitable environment for medical professionals and those receiving treatment.

“We’re taking public spaces, streets, and alleyways, pedestrian sidewalks which are very utilitarian, and we’re making it into a place that’s a much more attractive place. When you or someone who has medical issues is coming to the Medical District, your anxiety level is high,” says Huff. “If you have health issues or you have a loved one who is dealing with major issues, wouldn’t you want to be able to step outside into a beautiful place?”

According to Huff, plans for Doughty Street will still allow for emergency vehicles to easily access medical buildings, and although it’s too early to know the final cost for the project and sources of funding, he’s not the only one who’s optimistic about what the Medical District could mean for the city.

“This is unprecedented,” said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. “It’s so exciting because we go from a term, ‘medical complex,’ whatever, to a place, a neighborhood that’s physically beautiful, that is energized by all the diverse participants that are doing such worthwhile things.”

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