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Economy: Steel mill plan hinges on community support

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Supporters of redeveloping 100 acres of waterfront property in Georgetown that include ArcelorMittal’s steel mill and the state port have scheduled community meetings next month to begin generating public buy-in and momentum for the project.

Georgetown County development director Brian Tucker said presenting a unified vision from every sector of the community is the next step in the process and will serve to tamp down rumors about what’s happening. “The community needs to be vocal and visible that this is in their best interest,” he said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the land bordering Georgetown harbor has “the greatest potential of any site along the East Coast” when the Urban Land Institute sent a team of volunteers to Georgetown to brainstorm about its future use last fall. The team was shocked to see a house where George Washington slept, the Parker Stewart House, near an industrial site. Members concluded the site is no longer suitable for heavy industry and proposed a mixture of working waterfront, educational, commercial, retail and residential uses that would complement Georgetown’s historic nature.

“None of this matters until we get control of the site,” Tucker said. Partnering with ArcelorMittal on the redevelopment is the best case scenario, he said. Finding an investor who shares the community’s vision would be next.

Tucker said he has the names of dozens of buyers interested in the property at prices up to $25 million. The State Ports Authority is “a willing partner,” he said, but ArcelorMittal has been difficult to contact. Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said they’ve not heard from the company since June despite repeated calls and e-mails. Scoville sent ArcelorMittal CEO Robrecht Himpe a certified letter last week, asking for a reply. Himpe did take a call from U.S. Rep. Tom Rice last week. Rice sent word there was some progress made in setting up a conference call.

Georgetown City Administrator Paul Gardner expects to have the company’s full attention by August when City Council considers rezoning the steel mill property for mixed use. “That’s when we’ll get a van full of lawyers,” he said. Regardless of the council’s action, heavy industrial use would be grandfathered for ArcelorMittal for years to prevent it from arguing the rezoning was a taking.

Tucker said his worst fear is the mill property will be sold to another steelmaker as U.S. tariffs on imported steel rise and make domestic production profitable again. The Ports Authority, Tucker said, is willing to have its property rezoned but must have some inkling of what’s happening on the steel mill site before proceeding.

The city and county have agreed to help hire a person to “push this project every day,” Gardner said. “I’ve never seen anything unite us in a dream about what could be more than this project.”

Community meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. March 2 at Screven Baptist Church, 221 S. Island Road; March 6 at Howard Auditorium, 1610 Hawkins St.; and March 7 at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, 901 Highmarket St.

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