Thirty years ago, Matt Sloan was sitting in his office in New York working for a public policy firm by the name of Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler. Now he’s the president of the Daniel Island Company and is credited as a visionary for the development of Daniel Island as we know it.
On April 21, the Daniel Island Speaker Series hosted Sloan at the Daniel Island Club to share his involvement with the island’s origin and maturation over the past 25 years. The event drew a sold-out crowd of 250 attendees and 250 made reservations to watch virtually on Zoom.
Instead of a slideshow that detailed analytics of Daniel Island’s progression over the years, Sloan opted to give a historical account from his perspective. For him, it all started in 1991 when he received a phone call that would change the course of his life forever and shape a way of life for others.
When Lowcountry land pioneer Harry Frank Guggenheim passed away in 1971, his cousin Peter Lawson-Johnston Sr. inherited the land. Sloan went to graduate school at Columbia University School of Architecture and Planning with Lawson-Johnston’s son and that’s where the relationship formed.
In 1990, the Guggenheim Foundation was on the brink of having its family-owned land annexed into the City of Charleston. The Guggenheim parcel was 3,000 acres, the size of the Isle of Palms, and was primarily farmland used for cattle ranching and hunting grounds since 1946.
The city’s annexation of the Guggenheim expanse was done so involuntarily and ultimately without the foundation’s approval. Although the land itself was not contiguous with the city, then City of Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. knew that the law stipulated at least 75% permission from landowners’ within the tax base to annex the land. He received just that from surrounding Rodent and Parker islands.
Riley called an emergency city council meeting at 5 p.m. on Dec. 28, 1990, to push the measure through. The swift acquisition was described by The News and Courier, now The Post and Courier, as “Little Joe’s Louisiana Purchase.”
At the ripe age of 26 years old, Sloan was hired by the Guggenheim Foundation to assess the annexation of their property. He was shipped south to Charleston to get a better idea of what was about to transpire. What he saw was opportunity.
Sloan envisioned turning these quiet pastures into streets that intersect a bustling suburban community. He did just that and it’s called Daniel Island.
Daniel Island’s master plan was approved by the city in 1993 and broke ground two years later. The island’s first residents called it home when Daniel Island Real Estate sales associate Sally Castengera sold the first home in the spring of 1995.
The island’s first school originated by way of a business transaction. Bishop England High School sold its former campus to the College of Charleston and relocated to Daniel Island in 1997. As the first entity to commit to the island, the Daniel Island Company donated 44 acres to the school to build their campus and sports facilities.
Two years later, another business deal almost went down that spooked residents and caused a great deal of panic on the island. It was referred to as the “Global Gateway.”
In 1999, the State Ports Authority proposed building a shipping terminal on Daniel Island. Negotiations ended after an uproar from residents and politicians that resulted with the state legislature directing the ports authority to look elsewhere. That project finally
came to fruition more than 20 years later at the former Navy base in North Charleston with the opening of Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal earlier this month.
That same year, Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain became a business partner in developing the first two neighborhoods on the island, Codner’s Ferry Park and Etiwan Park. Park Day started that year with the opening of Simmons Park and Children’s Park.
Before the turn of the century, the Guggenheim Foundation sold all of its acreage to the Daniel Island Company which exponentially increased the developer’s means to expand the island’s commercial footprint. In 2001, the company launched Barfield Park, Center Park and Smythe Park simultaneously.
In 2000, current City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and his wife, Sandy, opened the first general store on River Landing Drive called Tecklenburg’s Market and Cafe. The store’s name is still engraved into the tile at the entrance where Ristorante Lidi stands today.
Recreationally, the Charleston Battery moved its soccer program to the island in 1999. The Daniel Island Club opened the Beresford Creek Golf Course in 2000 and a year later the Family Circle Tennis Center opened, which is now home to the Volvo Car Open.
Not to mention the creation of a 25-mile nature trail system for outdoor enthusiasts.
The affordable housing complex was constructed at 305 Seven Farms Drive in 2006. Sloan noted this development was somewhat controversial and “drew a lot of ire” because it was achieved with tax credits and it was situated on the corner of a main street instead of tucking it on the outskirts.
Over the last two decades, the island has earned numerous accolades, including the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence, America’s Best Suburban Smart Growth Community, and America’s Best Master-Planned Community. Today, more than 15,000 residents call Daniel Island home.
“We didn’t want to be a subdivision, we wanted to be a submarket,” Sloan said.
Sloan admitted that he’s most proud of covering a wide variety of price points in the housing market on the island. It gives him great pride knowing he helped build something that can appeal to all from a financial spectrum.
However, Sloan’s biggest regret is not taking advantage of the opportunity to build vertical developments.
An attendee at Sloan’s presentation suggested that he write a “best-selling coffee table book” of the creation of Daniel Island. Another attendee called Daniel Island “a Matt creation.”
“I hope I didn’t use the word ‘I’ too often, that’s not in my nature. I’m more about ‘we,’” Sloan added. “All of you that live here or own businesses here should consider themselves blessed because there’s a crackerjack team of professionals and that’s who makes things happen; my job is just to support them.”
Now in its ninth year, the speaker series is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Daniel Island, the Daniel Island Community Association, the Daniel Island Business Association, and the Daniel Island Club.