Union Pier, through the years. Photo by Herb Frazier.

The South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) on Thursday held its third public input session on a redevelopment plan for the 70-acre Union Pier along the Cooper River that holds the promise of more waterfront access, green spaces and homes and shops on the Charleston peninsula.

The comments from the public will be used to direct what happens to the land after the SPA sells the property to a developer. The site is considered to be one of the most prime pieces of waterfront real estate in the country.

Around a basketball court at Sanders Clyde Creative Arts Elementary School on Morrison Drive, more than 40 large displays showed a pictorial timeline of the pier’s history and future possibilities. On them, residents pasted comments that included a need for more affordable housing, spaces for outdoor events and uses of the opportunity to place Charleston at the forefront of thoughtful development.

Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell said he asked the SPA to hold the three-hour session at the school, which is adjacent to Meeting Street Manor, to give residents an opportunity to share their opinions. 

Map of the Charleston waterfront at the Oct. 14 community meeting. Photo by Herb Frazier.

“We have to make sure that African Americans are involved in whatever happens at Union Pier,” he said.

The next input session will be held in the evening Oct. 27 at the Charleston Gaillard Center. Lowe, a real estate company based in Los Angeles, is collecting the comments for the redevelopment plan.

Lowe also is the new owner of the SPA’s former headquarters near Union Pier. The company plans to turn the site into a hotel on Concord Street.

“Together, through a collaborative, public process, Union Pier will be redeveloped into a space that benefits the city and its residents,” said Liz Crumley, SPA’s manager for corporate communications. “We encourage the community to be a part of the public process to provide the best outcome for the people of our city.”

Rachel Hawes, who is land, water, and wildlife project manager with the Coastal Conservation League, said a new development presents the opportunity to connect it with existing public parks to increase downtown livability. Reducing paved surfaces also would mitigate flooding, she said. The league could suggest removing the 30-acre elevated portion of Union Pier to fully expose the marsh along the river’s edge.

Robert Dunlap, a member of the Lowcountry Maritime School, said he’d like to see the SPA erect a marker to commemorate the Mosquito Fleet, which was a group of black fishermen who plied the coastal waters to provide Charleston with fresh seafood before the advent of refrigeration. He said the fleet docked its small boats at the end of Laurens Street, the northern boundary of Union Pier.

Union Pier is currently the home port for the Carnival Sunshine cruise ship.  In the spring, the SPA announced it would not extend homeport cruising beyond 2024. The pier will continue to be used as a port-of-call for other cruise ships that would not dock overnight.