by Paul Bowers
The City of Charleston took a major financial step toward funding redevelopment projects in the Neck and the proposed Horizon district Tuesday night.
At a City Council meeting, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. announced that the city had received approval from county and school district officials to extend the deadlines for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts that will fund infrastructure improvements in the Neck's former planned Magnolia development and in the western peninsula's proposed Horizon district. City Council also approved the extension unanimously in a first reading Tuesday night.
City officials have been pitching both areas as centers for a nascent development boom. The area of the Neck in question, formerly known as the Magnolia development, is situated on 300 acres of former industrial land just north of downtown Charleston and includes a multimillion-dollar "bridge to nowhere" at its southern end that was paid for by TIF funds. MeadWestvaco has expressed an interest in developing the land, which remained undeveloped during the Great Recession, for mixed residential and commercial use. Riley said Tuesday night that an extension of the Neck TIF deadline was "essential for the redevelopment of the Magnolia area."
The Horizon District, as envisioned by the city-created nonprofit Horizon Project Foundation, would convert land near the RiverDogs baseball stadium into a $1 billion-dollar mixed-use development featuring offices for biotech companies, new parking garages, and up to 3,000 residential units.
Under Tax Increment Financing plans, the city has borrowed money to fund infrastructure improvements at both sites, and in the geographic areas around the two sites, it is setting aside any increases in property tax revenues over a set time period to pay off that debt. The original TIF terms for the Neck and the Horizon district set deadlines of 2029 and 2033, respectively, for the city to recoup the funding from property tax revenues. However, during slow growth years, developers lost interest and property values flagged at both sites.
City officials and the Horizon Project Foundation sought to extend the deadlines for the two TIF districts by 10 years apiece, to 2039 and 2034, respectively. And while City Council gave initial approval to the 10-year extension on its portion of property tax revenues Tuesday night, Charleston County Council and the Charleston County School District demanded some concessions in order to forfeit their share of property tax revenue increases for those areas. According to Riley, County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor demanded that $500,000 of the Neck TIF money be set aside for construction of a new community center in the Rosemont neighborhood. And while both the county and the school district approved a 10-year extension for the Neck TIF district, they only granted a five-year extension in the Horizon district for their share of the property tax revenues.
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor could not be reached for a comment on the TIF deadline extensions.