Over the years, many people have looked at the abandoned Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way, imagining that the 1.7 mile stretch of land along the ridge of Charleston’s peninsula could become a functioning linear park with a bike and pedestrian path. In 2012, local cyclist Tom Bradford, then actively involved with the bike and pedestrian advocacy group, Charleston Moves, took Mike Messner, a man with a deep history of supporting parks and green spaces, on a bike ride around the peninsula. They stopped to look at the right-of-way that hadn’t been used in over a decade, and agreed to find a way to reclaim the property and transform it into usable green space for the residents of Charleston. They envisioned a space where everyone would be welcomed and could make Charleston a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly space. Mike committed to trying to secure ownership of the property, and the two began five years of difficult negotiations with Norfolk-Southern. In late 2017, the purchase was finally made, and the City of Charleston agreed to take ownership of the land and pay roughly half the $4.5 million price
The City of Charleston is the primary owner of the land that will be the Lowline. In a wonderful example of private-public partnership, the Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline with the City of Charleston are working to refine the vision for the Lowline, consulting with all Lowline neighbors and Charleston residents about their wants and needs for the park. The Friends group, working with the City of Charleston and the community, is taking the lead to develop a plan to fund final design, construction, maintenance and programming.
The Lowline is a complex urban infrastructure project. Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline has retained a prestigious national engineering firm, Kimley-Horn, to assess all aspects of the cost to create the park. The estimated cost is $34 million (click HERE to read their full report).
Construction will be broken into separate stages, making it possible to seek funding sequentially for each one. Principal funding will come from government sources, but private grants and philanthropic contributions will be important as well. Following construction, maintenance and programming costs will be addressed through other mechanisms, with some of the burden borne by local businesses who benefit from the presence of the park. (click HERE to see preliminary phasing strategy)
The Friends of the Lowline and the City of Charleston are approaching development a step at a time, prioritizing community input before finalizing a design or beginning construction. The Memorandum of Agreement with the city stipulated that a Master Plan be completed by the end of 2020. This goal has been met, and The Friends group is now working with the city and the neighborhoods that surround the Lowline to further refine the design and develop a construction plan. Our intent is to begin construction on the first portion of the Lowline before the end of 2021. We believe that once the first stages are built, the remainder will quickly follow. (click HERE to see preliminary phasing strategy)
LCRT is being planned by the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) which is making all final decisions about LCRT routing. We are aware that the Lowline was considered for a portion of the route but an alternative route was approved to ensure Federal funding. Please visit the Lowcountry Rapid Transit page for more information.
That is up to YOU! As we move forward with design, it will be important to have the community’s feedback on what types of recreation and programming should be implemented. It’s our hope that this park will be beautiful but also functional for everyone in the Charleston community.
Have an idea for a program? CONTACT US
The Friends of the Lowline see the skate park as an important element of the Lowline, and will strongly advocate that it remain intact, becoming an integral feature of the finished park. The informal skatepark currently located beneath I-26 just north of Huger Street is a special place. It is a rare example of how community members can take initiative and ownership over a derelict area and transform it to serve a community need. Something that grows so organically in a city is rare and irreplaceable. Even the best landscape design cannot replace the social connectedness, community investment, or unique, quirky character that this type of asset provides. The Friends of the Lowline believe passionately that these types of activity-generating assets should be recognized and preserved as part of a healthy approach to urban design.
Our core values start with equity and inclusion, and we believe the Lowline should be the embodiment of fairness to all. Our objective for the construction and subsequent management of the Lowline is, first and foremost, to promote economic opportunity for our neighbors.
As a nonprofit group set up to build and maintain a great public park, the Friends of the Lowline have no authority (or ability) to build housing. However, we do recognize that this transformative project will affect all neighborhoods along the Lowline, including those already experiencing housing affordability challenges and related issues associated with a rapidly changing urban area. As demonstrated in other cities, the introduction of significant public improvements like the Lowline can exacerbate these challenges. Because of this, the Lowline group is committed to helping push for continued focus and attention on the development of more and more affordable housing in Charleston. We believe that success in this effort can only make the Lowline more successful.
The City is already in the process of constructing affordable housing on two sites near the Lowline that will add significantly to the number of affordable housing units in the area. Additionally, residents in affordable housing units along the completed Lowline will benefit from reduced transportation costs by utilizing easily accessible cycling and pedestrian routes built into the park.
Though we are focused on designing and building the park, the Friends of the Lowline are also intent on keeping the importance of affordable housing top-of-mind, collaborating with other local organizations in this effort as a civic priority.
The Friends of the Lowline began as a very small board because initially, its focus was limited to acquiring the Norfolk Southern property and establishing a relationship with the city of Charleston. Having met these goals, the Friends group is now in the process of growing and transforming into an outward-facing public organization reflective of the population that will be served by the Lowline. We will also look for opportunities at each stage to work with MWBE organizations and non-profits for construction, vendors, and programming.
Activities of any type taking place under or adjacent to I-26 are subject to regulations from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) designed to maintain the safety of the roadways. Under the terms of a lease it negotiated with SCDOT, the city is responsible for any and all activities that take place on SCDOT property and will make any and all decisions on such matters. Friends of the Lowline will always seek to ensure that the park serves the public as a clean, safe and enjoyable place for everyone--even if someone is experience houselessness. Not everyone has housing, but every person has a home. The Friends group is currently working with organizations like 180Place and Lowcountry Continuum of Care to make sure everyone is included in the designing and implementation process and everyone has a voice.
The Lowline will be an active park, with infrastructure and attractions that may include dedicated space for food and non-food vendors. The Lowline design could also support food trucks and a farmers’ market. Regulations for these options have yet to be formulated, but when complete, will reflect the Lowline’s emphasis on fairness, equity and inclusion, and its intent that neighbors of the park receive priority consideration.
Increased use of the corridor means more eyes paying attention to activities on the Lowline. Though still undeveloped, the final vision is that the Lowline be well-lit, and patrolled by police and/or security personnel.
We are still working on this one. The Friends group will most likely be the maintaining entity. We have seen models around the country that show maintenance of the Lowline, as well as management of activities along the park, and the personnel for these purposes could be funded through a on-going “business improvement district,” or “municipal improvement district”. In this model, it will not impact City of Charleston staff or budget and give programming, art and design back to the community.
Donating to the Lowline is simple! You can donate online or mail a check made out to Friends of the Lowline to 1629 Meeting Street, Suite A, Charleston, SC 29405. Every tax-deductible dollar you donate will support our vision, and will contribute to make an amazing public space for the Charleston community. If you have questions about donating, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We are a 501C3 non-profit organization and your donations are tax-deductible. In addition to helping support our mission, your donations will also allow us to hire a staff and establish an office. We really appreciate your support in helping us make the Lowcountry Lowline a priority for the City of Charleston.
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