CHARLESTON, SC — For more than a century, catching the sea breeze while taking a stroll along Charleston's Battery has been as much a part of life in the historic city as pastel buildings, sheltered gardens and slowly plodding carriage horses. Now the iconic spot, which draws locals and droves of tourists daily, is getting a makeover.
Work begins next month on a $2.7 million project to restore a section of the promenade and Battery seawall dating to 1919. Renovations to other sections of the Battery, which winds more than a mile along the shore where the Ashley and Cooper rivers, will follow in the future. Locals like to say the two rivers meet at the Battery to form the Atlantic Ocean.
The Battery project is just the latest in a long list of renovations to city buildings and public spaces in the city that attracts 4 million visitors a year. During the past decade, almost $200 million worth of such projects have either been completed or are underway.
The Battery, which edges the water at White Point Garden, a city park with rows of spreading live oaks, is comprised of three parts.
High Battery, several feet above street level, runs along the Cooper River and past the stately homes of Rainbow Row. Frank Newham, a project manager for the city, said that section dates to 1893 when rebuilt after a hurricane. Low Battery, which runs at street level almost a mile up the Ashley River side of the peninsula dates to 1919.
When that part was completed the two sections were joined with a staircase and a smaller section of walkway called the turn at the point of the Charleston peninsula. It's there the renovation work will begin.
The turn was designed with a wooden platform reaching toward the water upon which the concrete wall was placed, Newham said.
“What happened over the years since 1919 is parts of the wooden platform were exposed to the air. There are marine borers and rot,” he said. Marine borers are small aquatic creatures that bore into wood by eating it.
The renovation will consist of driving new piles and rebuilding the foundation. A cofferdam will be put in the water at the edge of the wall so crews can work in all tidal conditions. The work on the turn is expected to be finished next summer.
The work begins on High Battery, work that will include repointing the joints in the seawall. That's expected to cost about $700,000. Engineering studies have not yet been done on what's needed to renovate Low Battery.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said when the entire project is done, the seawall will look much the same as now. The only change will be where now a stairway connects the two Battery sections, a gentle ramp will be built, providing easier access for the wheel chairs and strollers.
All the work will be done in phases so most of the Battery will remain open.
“We don't want to keep any substantial portion of this majestic pedestrian walk out of commission for any length of time,” he said, adding the work is just the latest in a series of city projects.
“We've had a very substantial body of almost continuous activity restoring the city's older buildings and parks,” he said.
Since 2003, 10 major projects in the city have been completed or undertaken. Among them are a $5.5 million renovation of the popular City Market, a $19 million renovation of the historic Dock Street Theatre and a $10 million renovation of City Hall.
The city is currently working on the $142 million Gaillard Center, a world-class performing arts center and the most expensive project the city has ever built. Now the Battery is beginning.
“We'll be keeping it in good repair for the next 100 years,” Riley said.