by Sam Spence
A proposal that received initial approval from Charleston City Council this week would dramatically change the northern end of Hampton Park. The plan, drawn up by the Charleston Parks Conservancy, would improve a shuttered snack bar into a full-service cafe and convert the old stable building into a multi-purpose community building along with a pair of historic support buildings nearby.
If approved by City Council this summer, the group would hold a 25-year lease on the properties at $1 per year and guide the project as a public-private partnership with the city.
"The project is designed to complement other uses of the park," says Parks Conservancy Executive Director Harry Lesesne.
A 40-plus-page master plan (PDF) compiled by Turnberry Consulting with the Parks Conservancy lays out a comprehensive vision for the two-stage project.
Plans to upfit the existing snack bar into a full-service cafe draw on other urban al fresco dining spots like the popular Shake Shack in New York City’s Madison Square Park. The Parks Conservancy would work with a third-party foodservice partner to operate the facility.
The stable and park superintendent’s house on the north side of Mary Murray Boulevard near Grove Street would be reconnected to the park, and the stables would be adapted into an event venue and space for community use. That building would be called Washington Hall, named for the 19th-century Washington Race Course that took roughly the path of the present-day Mary Murray loop. The superintendent's house, adjacent to the stable building, is the last remaining building from the turn-of-the-century Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, an extravagant world's fair-type showcase that drew visitors from across the nation. Part of the building would be used as an interpretive center to document the history of the park area.
Lesesne says projects like the Hampton Park upgrades, which would generate revenue, help the Conservancy continue advocacy work to improve public space as a self-sustaining group.
The neighborhoods around Hampton Park have become some of the most desirable in the Charleston real estate market in the past decade. In October, the Post and Courier reported that median prices for homes north of the Crosstown Expressway, many post-war early suburban houses, had risen from $170,000 to over $325,000.
The Parks Conservancy met with the Westside Neighborhood Association on Thursday, and Lesesne says they are gathering feedback on the plans from other homeowners' groups.
A larger public input session will be held in the coming weeks before City Council takes a final vote, likely in July, on whether to move forward. Barring any hold-ups, Lesesne hopes the cafe portion of the plan will be completed by June of 2016.