Georgetown, South Carolina — Advisory Services Panel
September 28, 2016
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
Background and Panel Assignment
The 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
To accomplish the complex and difficult task of redevelopment and reuse of the site, the panel established the following ten guiding principles for redevelopment.
- The planning and execution for reuse of the site must recognize the historic context of the Georgetown community—its heritage, culture, neighborhoods, natural settings, and community assets. Any future plan must not only celebrate the richness of the community’s past but must also proactively acknowledge and reconcile the difficulties and challenges of the past, particularly social and economic. The plan must account for and lay the foundation for providing a means to mitigate and erase historic and significant differences within the community in terms of employment, educational opportunities and attainment, condition of infrastructure, and housing. When looking through the lens of the site, the proper vision and consequent plan must look to, 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, and economically. It is the starting place for the new Georgetown: a new economic and jobs-driven revitalization that does not threaten but rather enhances the existing postindustrial Georgetown economic base. The site is the bridge to creating a community that will retain and attract the community’s youth and future generations. 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.
- Future plans for the site must simultaneously be aspirational and challenge the status quo.
- The site represents a historic opportunity for community planning in the broadest sense of that term—physically, economically, and socially. This is where Georgetown should place its bet on the future.
- Future plans for the site must facilitate and encourage entrepreneurial risk taking that will, in turn and over time, seed more established and diverse jobs and consequent investment in the community. Community and economic growth start with established assets: Georgetown has them. Craftsmen, established and emerging players in recreation and lifestyle, pioneers in art, culture, and food all seize upon these assets, thrive, and grow. Even the site itself will produce jobs as vestiges of its industrial past are removed, environmental conditions are addressed, and new uses find their homes.
- The future vision for the site must capture, protect, enhance, and leverage the unique recreational and cultural assets that 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 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.
- Future plans for the site must accommodate and facilitate changes created by the ripple effect. Executing change on the site will spark change in the surrounding Georgetown neighborhoods and Georgetown’s regional assets. This ripple effect will be multidirectional. Change emanating from the site offers the opportunity to preserve and enhance the preexisting positive assets of the surrounding areas—physical, cultural, and socioeconomic. 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.
- A future vision for the site must recognize that the site is not homogenous and that lack of homogeneity, combined with its pivotal location and size, represents its greatest opportunity. Ownership and control vary. Timing of availability for reuse varies. The site is appropriate for and can be broken into many pieces, each exerting its own impact on economic growth but tied together by a common vision.The time frame for reuse begins immediately but likely will extend over 20 years or more.