One day after announcing plans to buy the Sofa Super Store site where nine Charleston firefighters perished and create a memorial there, Mayor Joe Riley suggested that a proposed county park he's been advocating could be an additional memorial site.
"I think there is a splendid opportunity for a more complete memorial to these men in that park," said Riley, referring to more than 1,500 acres of land that developers of the proposed Long Savannah subdivision have offered to sell to the county for $8 million.
"It could be where every firefighter in the region goes for their picnic," Riley said.
The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has been divided on using greenbelt funds to buy the land in far West Ashley, much of which is wetlands. PRC commissioners recently put a $4 million offer on the table, and began negotiations.
The idea of using the park to memorialize firefighters could give support to those who favor the land deal, but County Council Chairman Tim Scott said the issues should be kept separate.
"I don't want the integrity of the loss of life to get mixed in with the controversy of a land deal," Scott said Thursday.
"I wholeheartedly support the efforts to memorialize the firefighters, and I think the purchase of the Sofa Super Store site is a grand idea and I'm glad the city of Charleston is taking the lead," he said.
"As far as the controversial Long Savannah project, I think the project will have to stand on its own merit, and how we incorporate honoring the firefighters at a park or another location outside the Sofa Super Store site should be decided after emotions are allowed to simmer a little bit," Scott said.
Riley said the 2.5-acre Sofa Super Store site on Savannah Highway is a small property in a high-traffic area. A natural area with marsh views and access to Rantowles Creek would offer more opportunities for quiet contemplation, he said. "I think, for the families and everyone, now in this time of tragedy, it's important to paint an ambitious picture for a memorial," Riley said.
Charleston is working on its own land deal with the Long Savannah developers, which calls for buying 232 acres of land at the top of Bear Swamp Road for $2.8 million, for a new city park, which would be adjacent to the larger county park.
Riley said the city park would not make a good memorial site because plans call for baseball fields and other active recreation.
The proposed county land purchase is an integral part of the subdivision plan, which calls for building about 1,500 homes. The plan would require moving the "urban growth boundary" that's supposed to define the end of suburban growth in Charleston County.
Charleston and the developers have plans for the subdivision to be annexed into the city, if the development moves forward.
Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Kevin Hollinshead said Riley told him about the idea of using the land as a memorial Wednesday. "I think it's something worth looking into," he said. "I have a lot of questions and reservations, and there are a lot of issues that would need to be worked out."