Thirty years from now, residents and visitors could see a whole new Georgetown.
A 10-member professional planners group from the Urban Land Institute presented a vision for the future of the area on Friday, giving a first look at its idea for the 150-acre waterfront site that houses the closed ArcelorMittal – Georgetown steel mill, the port of Georgetown and the adjacent area.
Georgetown’s West End, which stretches from Front Street along South Fraser, also drew attention.
ULI, a professional land-use organization, was hired to bring a comprehensive development plan to the community.
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The land-use panelists offered a three-facet development plan that includes what they called “Georgetown Commons,” “University Village” and to make South Fraser Street a mixed-use thoroughfare.
“The Georgetown communities clearly face an economic crisis with jobs lost to degradation and a deepening social imbalance,” said Alex J. Rose, senior vice president of development at the Continental Development Corp., in El Segundo, California.
“At the same time, the Georgetown communities have the rare opportunity to reinvent and revitalize the key and highly visible waterfront,” Rose said.
The Georgetown Commons plan includes retail, restaurants and residential uses, while the University Village includes the presence of educational opportunities, including Horry-Georgetown Technical College, Clemson, Coastal Carolina and the University of South Carolina, which already have a presence in the community.
But before a shovel can be put in the ground, the project – or projects as they evolve – would require work from the community, from the public sector, the private sector and area residents, Rose said.
With each phase of the vision, Rose and the panel noted both the opportunities and the existing challenges.
He stressed that his panel members were presenting a vision and implementation plan, but it would be up to the community to see it through.
Panel members offered a 10-prong approach, taking advantage of the area’s assets, primary among them what Rose called the “incomparable waterfront.”
In the planning and execution of the development for the site, Rose said that planners must “recognize, but not be bound by the historic context of the Georgetown community.”
Geoff Koski, a senior consultant with the Bleakly Advisory Group in Atlanta, spelled out some of the challenges implementing the vision, including a population decline while other areas of the South Strand are growing.
In addition, he noted, the city’s population is aging, its percentage of people with a college degree lags behind its neighbors and the number of people living below the poverty level leads the area.
He said the rice production, so important to Georgetown, “created an underclass that has persisted into the current era.”
Bringing the plan to fruition could change that while preserving the character of South Carolina’s third-oldest city.
On the plus side, Koski lauded Georgetown’s location, within easy reach of the 1 million people who live an hour’s drive away. But the challenge is getting them to stop in the city.
“Once they stop here, they tend to spend time here, spending money here,” said Juanita Hardy, ULI’s senior visiting fellow for creative place making.
To draw people to Georgetown, the group suggested immediately starting a rebranding campaign for the city and county and to “leverage a visitor’s center” perhaps on U.S. 17.
Among other suggestions was expanding the Harborwalk that sits along the river, creating a recreational opportunity and opening the site to pedestrian, cars and bicycles.
Another suggestion is to reduce the speed on South Fraser to provide opportunities on the West End for retail development, to make it walkable, even, or perhaps to make it a mixed-use development.
The plan was greeted with enthusiasm by Georgtown Mayor Jack Scoville, who mentioned moving the city hall and fire station to the steel mill site, and by county Councilman Johnny Morant, who said the council will quickly take a look at the plan.