Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.

THE TALON

Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.

THE TALON

Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.

THE TALON

Paper mill and Union Pier purchased

Plans for replacement Don Holt announced
WestRock+paper+mill%2C+North+Charleston.+Papnews.
WestRock paper mill, North Charleston. Papnews.

On Tuesday, March 19th, two major purchases in the Charleston area were announced. The WestRock paper mill, which is situated by the Don Holt Bridge and closed in August 2023, was purchased by the South Carolina Ports Authority, and Union Pier, a 65 acre waterfront property downtown.

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCSPA) is purchasing the paper mill and its property, roughly 280 acres, directly from WestRock following the mill’s August 2023 closure due to “high operating costs and the need for significant capital investment.”

Because the property is directly south of the North Charleston Terminal, SCSPA is intending on expanding the terminal, which, according to SCSPA President Barbara Melvin, will “support growth in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast.” The purchase was supported by Governor Henry McMaster, who stated, “Our state‚Äôs investment in the expansion of North Charleston Terminal will yield dividends and create opportunities for future generations.”

WCBD-TV estimates the new property will create “5,000 feet of linear berth space for container shops, and around 400 acres of terminal space for cargo.”

On March 26th, a week after the announcement of the paper mill acquisition, SCSPA and the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) announced plans to replace the Don Holt Bridge, part of a plan to expand and widen I-526 to eight lanes. The announcement occurred on the same day as the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore but the timing was purely coincidental.

More details regarding future plans were announced on April 3rd. SCDOT Project Manager Kit Scott stated, “Two separate structures is what we are considering now.” Twin bridges spanning the Cooper River would resemble the Grace Memorial and Pearman Bridges which connected Mount Pleasant to the peninsula before being replaced by the Ravenel Bridge.

The Don Holt replacement is planned to provide the same amount of ship clearance as the Ravenel, 186 feet. This would make the clearance 31 feet taller and allow for bigger cargo ships to go underneath and access the North Charleston Terminal.

The cost will be heavy. The Ravenel cost $675 million, while the Don Holt replacement is estimated to cost nearly double, according to the Post and Courier.

In addition to being eight lanes, the Don Holt replacement is planned to feature a 14 foot wide pedestrian and bike lane, a lane 2 feet wider than the existing Wonder Way carrying pedestrian and bike traffic on the Ravenel Bridge.

The inclusion of a pedestrian lane is supported by Charleston Moves organization. The same organization additionally advocated for the Ashley River pedestrian crossing, which began construction on October 30th. The crossing is planned to open in 2027.

The James B. Edwards Bridge connecting Mount Pleasant and Daniel Island is also planned to be replaced as part of the I-526 widening, complete with its own pedestrian and bike path. The James B. Edwards Bridge may also be replaced with two bridges, though the current bridge as it stands is already technically two bridges though it is not commonly referred to as such.

The James B. Edwards replacement may be shorter than the current bridge because container ships do not go beneath it to access any port terminals.

Additionally planned is construction on the Long Point Road interchange in Mount Pleasant, estimated to begin in 2026. The interchange provides key access from I-526 to the Wando Welch Terminal. This plan follows minor construction on the interchange’s westbound entrance in 2015 and 2016.

Scott estimated that the Don Holt replacement may be complete in the 2030s.

On March 19th, the same day SCSPA announced its intention to purchase the WestRock paper mill, it was announced that Ben Navarro would purchase Union Pier from SCSPA for an undisclosed sum of money.

Location of Union Pier on the peninsula. Brandon Lockett, The Post and Courier.

Union Pier occupies roughly 65 acres on the eastern shore of the downtown peninsula, occupying part of the space between Calhoun and Broad streets. It is a large portion of Charleston’s Historic District.

Union Pier, originally built for port operations, has long been largely vacant. It has been used primarily as a parking lot and a terminal for cruise ships in recent years.

According to the Coastal Conservation League, the current lease on Union Pier to Carnival Cruise Line ends in 2024, allowing for the pier’s sale.

On Union Pier’s website, a statement from SC Ports Board Chairman Bill Stern reads:

“We are now thrilled to have Ben Navarro as the local buyer of the site. It was important to us and to the city to have a local buyer who is both invested in the community and has a desire to develop something everyone is proud of. Ben calls Charleston home and actively invests in making our community a better place to live. We are confident that this path forward will enable city leaders and the community to work directly with a local buyer in shaping the future of Union Pier.”

The deal is supported by Mayor William Cogswell, who has advocated for the pier’s purchase. After the sale, he stated, “I will not be passive or reactive on this critical undertaking and will ensure our residents are put first in the outcome of this project.”

Navarro, who is a local billionaire and founder of Sherman Financial Group, has stated intentions to redevelop the property. These intentions include removing cruise ships, creating a public waterfront, introducing affordable housing, and preserving the beauty and character of Charleston.

Melvin stated that the pier was sold in its entirety rather than as individual sections in order to “make sure that the infrastructure was there to support the site.” Infrastructure plans for the area announced by Navarro include further protection against the sea.

To WCBD-TV News 2, President and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation Winslow Hastie described himself as being “cautiously optimistic” regarding the purchase.

The official Union Pier website has details regarding the pier’s history and plans for future development. The website states in its Upcoming Meetings section, “Stay tuned for upcoming public meetings,” implying likelihood of public input being taken into consideration for the development of the property.

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