Charleston's Union Pier Is On Track


The new Union Pier redesign transforms Building 332, an unused warehouse, into the new cruise terminal. // (c) 2011 Union Pier Project.

The conceptual plans for Charleston, South Carolina’s new cruise terminal project have been given the go-ahead by the Charleston Board of Architectural Review. The plan has been backed by letters of support from the Charleston Branch Pilots’ Association and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The $35 million redesign of Union Pier was conceptualized through the help of extensive community input, whose suggestions have influenced both the aesthetic look and actual utility of the future terminal.

The future terminal is planned to occupy the northern portion of Charleston’s Union Pier, converting an existing warehouse, known as Building Number 332, into the terminal’s structure. This building provides eight wide bays for the port to utilize, though extensive work must be done to the structure as it was originally designed as a cargo facility. One of the factors in choosing this building was its disassociation with the rest of the area’s maritime history, making it easier for the city of Charleston to dismantle and remodel the structure without losing a historical landmark.

The location of the new terminal was chosen so that traffic might be mitigated to and from the area with better results than at the previous location, as well as providing a use for Building 332. Local input also determined that over 5,000 feet of chain-link fence surrounding the old terminal’s property will also be taken down so that the area will no longer be sectioned off and separated from the rest of Charleston.

Locals also influenced the decision to remove from the terminal several 80-foot tall lights that had become intrusive to the surrounding area. Public opinion aided the decision to install skylights into the terminal for organic lighting, as well as historical exhibits to highlight Charleston’s maritime history.

Of the 13 letters submitted to Charleston’s Board of Architecture regarding the new terminal, only one letter written by Katie Zimmerman, project manager with the Coastal Conservation League, felt concern. Zimmerman requested shore-side power to become a factor in the new design, and also argued that the suburban aesthetic of the terminal clashed with the urban setting of the surrounding area.

The plans also state that the terminal area includes surface parking for cruise passengers, and that other areas for parking will be determined as planning continues, but I think the addition of a parking deck would solve many of their parking problems. For the most part, however, it seems that the Union Pier's design is doing an excellent job of providing what the community of Charleston is asking for.

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