The story of why 182 acres of land on the peninsula are sitting vacant
If you drive around the Upper Peninsula, weaving your way through the lively Wagener Terrace neighborhood, then passing by the Charleston Rifle Club, eventually, you’ll hit a dead end. Well, almost.
First, you’ll reach what looks like a seemingly pristine bridge, running parallel to I-26 and completely void of traffic. It’s blocked off by a temporary barrier; but if you were to continue on, after about a quarter mile, you would reach the end of the bridge – and nothing else.
The story of how the bridge came to be (and then, $10 million later, not to be) is a tale made complicated by toxic waste, spontaneously combusting shrimp, + regulatory red tape.
Bridge over troubled groundwater
On the other side of the bridge sits 182 acres of unused, privately owned land called the Magnolia property. It’s on the peninsula, adjacent to the Ashley River, + convenient to I-26.
For years, the area housed fertilizer plants + lumber treatment facilities. During that time, harmful chemicals made their way into the groundwater + soil. It wasn’t until close to the end of the 20th century that people even began to understand the dangerous repercussions the improper handling of industrial waste could entail.
Case in point: In 1992, a man went shrimping along the Ashley River. On his way home, his cooler of shrimp spontaneously combusted. Environmental officials later concluded the shrimp had been exposed to phosphorous – a highly combustible chemical element – from a nearby plant.
By the time this was all realized, however, it was too late. The land was deemed unfit for use, and that would remain the case until it was cleaned up. And the cleanup ain’t cheap – we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.
Some of the bills have been footed by the responsible parties– and some by the federal government– who in 1994 designated Magnolia a Superfund site (a distinguishment granted to only the most contaminated land in the country).
By the turn of the century, major progress had been made, and with the end seemingly in reach– investors + city leaders began eying the property as an opportunity to redevelop the soon-to-be valuable land.
In 2003, The City of Charleston, along with the private developers who owned the land (Raleigh-based Ashley I and Ashley II) dreamed up a plan to redevelop the Magnolia property into a glorious, mixed-use development. Among what the community would include: thousands of homes, parks, public access to the waterfront, businesses, shops + more. It all would connect via “a waterfront park with multi-use trails and a variety of passive, naturalized landscapes and active recreation areas.”
In 2008, construction began on the $10 million bridge. The idea was that it would serve as one of several entry points to Magnolia.
The wakeup call
While the bridge was being erected, the economy promptly collapsed. In 2010, Ashley I and Ashley II – burdened by the recession, cleanup costs + litigation – defaulted on their loans. The property went into bankruptcy. The project stalled. But the bridge remained.
A barrier was eventually placed to block oncoming traffic from crossing the platform. Occasionally, a runner or cyclist can be spotted utilizing the defunct bridge’s pedestrian path. But, the other side remains a wasteland.
Once a sign of progress + development – and now a road to an abandoned development – the Bridge to Nowhere has become eerily symbolic of the very recession that led to its failure. But, as things have begun looking up on Wall Street (knock on wood), hope has returned for the future of Magnolia.
Where it stands now
Last year, real estate development firm Highland Resources completed the purchase of every tract of Magnolia, and opened a new office in Charleston.
Officials with Highland Resources say they plan to invest upwards of $30 million on finishing up the environmental renourishment before beginning the installation of basic infrastructures, such as sewer lines. It’s only after both of those tasks are completed that work will begin on the development itself.
So, it looks like Magnolia may finally come to be– but there’s still a lot of money + time that must be spent before it all starts taking shape.
But don’t fret about that now– we can cross that bridge when we get to it. Literally.