The City of Charleston announced on Thursday the purchase of more than one-and-a-half miles of railroad right of way as part of a plan to turn the defunct tracks into a public linear park.
Virginia-based transportation company Norfolk-Southern Corporation sold the land to the city and the Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line for $4.6 million, a significant drop from the $17 million price tag first cited by the non-profit. The city and the nonprofit split the bill.
“What we call the Lowline last carried freight, actually newsprint, to The Post & Courier eight or 10 years ago,” said Low Line board member Tom Bradford in an interview with CP on October 2015. “Since that time, this railroad has sat there rotting. The ties you’ll see are falling apart, the rails rusted, actually wavering all over the place.”
The nonprofit says that a pedestrian-friendly and well-maintained linear park along the corridor would boost economic activity in the area, end shady business along the unsupervised land, and mitigate gentrification on the lower peninsula.
“One possible solution is to build new affordable housing, which could be constructed on the land we will own adjacent to the Low Line,” according to the “Reasons Why” section of the Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line website. “It is ideally located to allow residents to walk or bike to jobs or to school.”
The purchase puts ownership of the land fully in the hands of the city, according to a statement by Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline. The group will work with the city to plan and design the park.
Winslow Hastie, president of the Low Line board and of the Historic Charleston Foundation, told CP that the group feels “extremely excited” about closing on the Low Line.
“In the new year, the Friends will work closely with the city to develop a more formal operating agreement that spells out our role working with the city to make the linear park a reality,” Hastie said. “My interest and support for the Lowline certainly is an extension of my work at Historic Charleston.”
Evening Post Industries, owner of The Post & Courier, and the Speedwell Foundation, which provides study abroad scholarships and helps fund park projects nationwide, both contributed $500,000 towards the buy. Individual donations, pledges, and a $1 million bridge loan from South State Bank helped cover the rest of Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line’s bill.
The Low Line takes a page from New York City’s own scenic experiment in repurposing unused, decaying train tracks as vibrant public spaces. The High Line, which runs through the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, officially opened in June 2009 on tracks used by the former New York Central Railroad. The greenway continues to expand, and a 2010 article in The New York Times pointed to a surge of development in areas near the High Line despite a recession-based dip in real estate interest.
“When complete, the LowLine will be a great asset for our city, providing new opportunities for recreation and mobility, and new alternatives for drainage and flooding improvements along the spine of the peninsula,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said in the city’s press release. “I’d like to thank Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line for their partnership in this important project.”
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