Archive for October 2011

What makes Charleston Charleston?

Good afternoon,

We’ve written two commentaries, published elsewhere, that you may
wish to read.  This week, “What makes Charleston Charleston?” appears
in Charleston Currents online.  It begins, “For Charleston, there’s good
and bad news.  The good news is that Charleston dethroned San Francisco as
the No. 1 tourist destination in America…”

We hope you’ll read the rest of “What Makes Charleston
Charleston?”  To do so, please click this link:
http://www.charlestoncurrents.com/issue/11_issues/11.1024.htm#focus

And earlier, an edited version of a previously well-received
commentary, “In My Dream,” was published in the Post and Courier.  If
you’d like to imagine a better, alternate vision for Union Pier and Charleston,
one that differs from that of the SC Ports Authority and Mayor Riley, please
read “Reasonable Cruise Regulations should be More than a Dream” here:
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/oct/03/reasonable-cruise-regulations-should-be-more-dream/?print

On a personal note, thank you for your response to these
opinions and commentaries.  Whether or not you agree with our views, encouraging
an open and honest discussion concerning the “highest and best use” for Union
Pier and regulation of cruise ship tourism is essential if we want Charleston’s
future to be as treasured and celebrated as her past.    –Jay

Waves of Criticism

The un-listening mayor and the defiant Ports Authority were
pilloried in this week’s Charleston News Alternative.  A must-read front
page article, “The Cruise Ship Controversy: A Summary,” suggests that
“…Charlestonians need to ask questions to help determine if Mayor Joseph P.
Riley, Jr. and the officials at the State Ports Authority (SPA) have acted in
the best interests of all concerned.”  Explaining a number of cruise ship
issues, including zoning, pollution, the terminal “design,” the economics and
the politics of the controversy itself, publisher Bryan Harrison puts his finger
on two most critical:

“The city has reached an agreement with SPA that only two ships each week
can dock here, but the agreement is meaningless. There is nothing in writing,
but the Mayor continues to assure that such a codified agreement is
unnecessary.

For a man who has been in politics most of his adult life and
a mayor for 36 years, it is hard to believe that he can be this naive. Those in
favor of tighter controls don’t trust an agency they feel hasn’t listened to
them.”  The article continues:

“Perhaps the biggest controversy is the location. “…The SPA argues that it is
rescuing the area from blight. Yet, they are replacing an unseemly place with
pavement that could be used for other purposes. If the nine acres [of cruise
parking at Union Pier] could be developed for shops and restaurants, the city
would receive more revenue than it does from tourists whose usual purchases
consist of T-shirts and souvenirs.”  This comprehensive feature is something
that you should read (please see footnote link 1 below).

Another article, “Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems,” appears in CruiseMates.
The article says something that the SPA would rather you didn’t realize:
“Right now Carnival is boarding and disembarking passengers on these budget
five-day cruises in a cruise terminal that is just a few hundred yards from the
historic district.  It is important to note that the ship does not use the city as a
port of call with extensive tour offerings; it uses the city as a place for cruisers
to park their cars and board the ship.”  The article questions any benefit of
putting the terminal downtown.  “In fact, the city has a rule for dropping
off passengers that ‘walk ups are not permitted.’  Every passenger must arrive
in a vehicle, so there is no true benefit for the locals for having the port within
the downtown area.  “Once again, cruisers are not coming to Charleston for
sight-seeing; they are coming to board the ship.”
CruiseMates adds:  “In other words, the only thing the city is
experiencing every five days is a massive traffic jam in one of the most
historic, beautiful and vital residential areas in the entire United
States.”(2)

Historic Charleston Foundation’s president, Kitty Robinson, in a
Post and Courier op-ed, again calls for a “solid approach in advocating for
oversight of the landside impacts of the cruise ship industry.”  She specifically
counters one of the biggest lies now being foisted on the public:
“The Foundation’s proposed solution would not have a negative impact on
jobs or the State Ports Authority’s ability to promote economic development
for the state.”   All business is regulated; the SPA wants to be the exception.
The SPA’s continuing defiance is more than strange given that the Foundation’s
“solution” is based on the SPA’s own recommendations.  Ms. Robinson emphasizes
another fact: “This is not just a downtown issue. The continuing success of our
vital heritage tourism economy hinges on maintaining the quality and character
of downtown, and a thriving Charleston contributes significantly to an invigorated
regional economy.”(3)

This blog remains unpersuaded that regulation alone can protect Charleston.
Moving the terminal north, or away from Union Pier, is the only way to accomplish
that. The basis for this position is the city’s own submissive response to SPA and
the cruise industry, especially as the city could later arbitrarily lift any
restrictions that it might impose to still the controversy.  It’s also because
of the potential that financial temptations might arise from the asymmetrical
disparity between the City of Charleston and a behemoth, growing worldwide
$30-billion-a-year cruise industry.  Such a temptation may never occur and would
undoubtedly be perfectly legal if it did, but the opportunity to further the
cruise industry’s fortunes at the expense of the city’s quality-of-life and
preservation efforts would exist.

We come, finally, to the mayoral election.  The only reason we comment on it is
because of the city’s obeisance to the SPA.   The latest Charleston News
Alternative
editorial, endorsing Dudley Gregorie, says, “We are sure he
[Mayor Riley] believes he is doing the right thing for the city.  We just don’t
understand his political thinking.  Also, we don’t understand his inflexible position.
The people most affected by the harmful effects of the cruise ships have come to him
as their representative, and what they have requested can bring no economic harm
to the city.  Yet, he has been unyielding.”(4)  Today’s Post and Courier says,
“Most of the candidates expressed support for the cruise
industry, though [William Dudley] Gregorie said the city should do more to
enforce the cap on cruise ships that the State Ports Authority has agreed to,
while [David] Farrow said the new cruise terminal should be moved north.”(5)
We like Gregorie, too, but David Farrow has the right answer on this issue.
And, on this issue, either would be preferable to what we have now.

–Jay

1)  The Cruise Ship Controversy:  A Summary – Charleston News Alternative
2)  Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems – CruiseMate
3)  Preserve Heritage’s Tourism Appeal in our Living City – Post and Courier
4)  We Support – Charleston News Alternative
5)  Mayoral Hopefuls Tee Off on Riley – Post and Courier

Mayor Candidates Address Cruise Issue on YouTube

Hear the Mayoral Candidates Position on the Cruise Industry In Charleston on our official YouTube channel!-

So, What does Charleston get?

Good morning,

Are you willing to risk Charleston’s new No. 1 ranking as America’s top
tourist destination?

Then let’s start asking serious questions about cruise ship tourism:
Who benefits?  What are the real costs?

Tom Robinson, in his excellent Charleston Mercury series, “The
Elusive Economic Impact of Cruise Business,” asks another, “There is an economic
impact from cruise ship tourism.  No argument there.  And it’s big. The question
that must be asked, however:  For whom is the impact?”  Robinson lays out the
cruise passenger spending data from Greater Victoria Harbor, the Caribbean and
Key West.  He reveals that in Key West, each cruise passenger spends an average
of just $32.10. “The largest expenditures were for clothing ($6.07), souvenirs
($5.90), and jewelry, china, perfume ($4.00).”(1)

Is that the heady cruiser spending you imagined?

And who can blame embarking cruise passengers for spending so little?
They pre-paid for their cruise, pre-paid for their food, some pre-paid for their
excursions. Any additional dollars a passenger might spend for food here must
be seen as wasteful when the food is “free” on the ship. Importantly, home-ported
Carnival “Fantasy” passengers are preparing to sail away from Charleston to
spend their money elsewhere! Only their cars stay for a week here in Charleston
in what must be the most expensive waterfront parking spaces in America.

Another writer makes this point.  Different cruise lines attract different
kinds of passengers.  “Seabourn or Lindblad focus on sensible sustainable
tourism, educational experiences, and market to those interested in ecology,
history etc.  Other lines target different segments–stressing partying
(Carnival), or family experiences (Disney), shore experiences (Lindblad), or
elegance (Celebrity, Holland America)…”(2)

Robinson observes, “Tourism equals economic impact.  Cruise tourism equals
less economic impact.  Day-trippers equal way less economic impact.  Economic
impact means dollars change hands. Into whose pocket do those dollars go?  Those
of local retailers, innkeepers, service personnel, municipalities and taxpayers?
Or merely the left pocket and the right pocket of a sophisticated, horizontally
and vertically integrated cruise business?”

Where is the money going?  It isn’t going to Charleston.  The city gets no
property taxes; that land belongs to the SPA.  The city gets no passenger fees,
fees that many other cities do get.  And because of food safety concerns and
strict cost controls in the cruise industry, local farmers aren’t getting an
opportunity to provision these ships.   The big money goes to the SPA (docking,
passenger and parking fees, etc.) and Carnival Cruise Lines (passenger fees,
income from restaurants, spas, casinos, shops, upper tier restaurants, etc.,
plus any negotiated cuts on land excursions, with preferred vendors, etc.).
Money also goes to North Charleston hotels (lower priced hotels host many
embarking passengers), transportation services such as taxis, pedicabs and
carriage operators, and the longshoremen.

So, what does Charleston get?   The expenses and impacts.

“When tourists come here and take a carriage ride, the horses don’t take
them to Citadel Mall. They take them through the historic district where people
spend a lot of money to keep up those houses that others want to see,” says
Bryan Harrison in the Charleston News Alternative.(3)   That statement is
confirmed by the 2011, Office of Tourism Analysis, College of Charleston survey
that says besides “food,” the following round out the top five tourist draws of
our city:  “History, Ambiance and Atmosphere, Attractions and Local
Hospitality.”(4)  And while most of the “attractions” of our city are “free” for
tourists, they are not “free” for the shopkeepers, residents, or religious,
civic and fraternal organizations that must spend boatloads of money to maintain
the historic buildings, homes, and gardens.  And that “cost” isn’t just
financial, the same people and organizations, many of which also must pay
increasing property taxes, must also face the ever-growing negative impacts of
cruise ship visits including unhealthy smoke and soot pollution, increased
pedestrian and traffic congestion, noise, litter and simple wear and tear–all
add up to a diminished quality of life.  Residents must also pay additional
taxes for first responders, civil servants and other city workers needed to
manage this tourism; no, those Charleston cops directing cruise traffic ain’t
workin’ for nothin’.

Robinson gives us a sobering cost/benefits comparison from Victoria,
Canada.  “Although economic benefits are generated by cruise line, passenger and
crew member expenditures, social and environmental costs result from marine
effluents, traffic congestion, traffic noise, road repairs, atmospheric
emissions and public subsidies.  Estimated economic benefits amount to at most
$24 million (Canadian dollars), while estimated costs are at least $28
million.”

Perhaps that’s why Bryan Harrison asks, “Should not the cruise industry be
regulated like the city regulates taxis, the carriage industry, tour buses,
pedicabs and other services that deal with tourism?  Should we think about what
would happen if the number of carriage tours or pedicabs were unlimited? Or if
the waste from the animals that pull the carriages should be allowed without
regulation?”(5)

So what about regulation?  Nope, can’t have that, says Mayor Riley:  “The
port has done a splendid job. We can’t tell them what to do.”(6)

Another question. Why does the cruise terminal have to be downtown?  Many soot, noise,
traffic and congestion impacts on the peninsula would be reduced if the terminal
were moved to Columbus Street, North Charleston or Patriot’s Point.  But the
mayor and the SPA won’t discuss that either.

Tuesday’s Post and Courier pondered if it was Charleston’s
“friendliness” that just won it the top travel destination award, or “was it the
bounty of outstanding restaurants, top-notch hotels, rich history, quaint shops
and overall ambience that catapulted the Holy City to the top, displacing
perennial winner San Francisco, which held the title for 18 years?”(7)   What we
do know is that none of these attributes is all that important for “Fantasy”
passengers sailing off to the Caribbean.Tom Robinson concludes his Mercury
article, “Quality of life for residents in Ansonborough and commuters snarled
in cruise day traffic is an important issue, especially when compared to the
quality of life for a transient day-tourist spending four hours and $44 here.
But this story is about cruise economics. Does quality have a place when
money is a stake?

“Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of National Geographic’s Center for
Sustainable Destinations, believes the real benefit to tourists in the Holy City
is Charleston’s ‘sense of place’… its character, architecture and the deportment
of the historic district. He says, ‘The heavy human footprint of day tourists
can ruin the experience for stay-over visitors.

‘”Tourtellot is empathetic to what city fathers want. ‘I understand Joe Riley’s
impulse to want to fix up an ugly part of the city,’ he admits. ‘But if I were king
of the world, I’d put the home port facility up at Columbus Street, and shuttle people
who really want to visit Charleston into the historic district.'”

–Jay

1)  The Elusive Economic Impact of Cruise Business – Tom
Robinson
2)  Managing Cruise Ship Impacts; Guidelines for Current and Potential
Destination Communities
7)  Holy City displaces San Francisco as No. 1…  P&C

Mythmaking

There is no doubt that the SPA, its expensive PR firm, and the mayor know how to frame an argument. But when it comes to the cruise ship tourism, does the frame fit?

“We are against jobs.” That’s the headline of the Charleston Mercury editorial that assails one prong of the SPA’s two-pronged (think “forked-tongue”) myth. The Mercury notes, “In his recent comments to Fox News, Bryon Miller, spokesman for the SPA, said that cruise ships bring jobs at a time when others are dissolving. Mr. Miller implies that those who want to reform the way cruise ships do business are going to reduce the number of jobs the cruise ships bring. No, sir, that is not true,” intoned the editorial. (2) But the facts haven’t slowed the SPA’s mythmaklng designed to fool the uninformed and gin up support from longshoremen’s union.

What’s the other half of that forked-tongue myth? “Their [“special interest” supporters of cruise ship regulation] goal is to cripple our port system to satisfy their anti-growth agenda. First it’s cruise ships, then cargo ships. Next it will be trucks and rails. They don’t seem to care that their agenda would irreparably damage economic development and kill jobs all across South Carolina.”(3) That statement, from SPA Chairman Bill Stern, is overreaching of the highest order. Oh, no, that wasn’t overreaching, his additional comment is overreaching: “It’s time for people of goodwill to stand against this narrow-minded band of radicals and their frivolous, irresponsible lawsuits.” But neither of these SPA protestations is true. No one wants to get rid of the cruise industry or eliminate a single job. No one is even commenting about cargo shipping in Charleston.

This is the big myth. Concerned citizens who want to regulate the size, number and frequency of cruise ship visits, or restrict the use of dangerous, foul bunker fuel air pollution while these ships are in port, also, according to this big myth, want to a) eliminate cruise ships and cruise jobs, and b) stop all port operations. This is nonsense. It’s bunk. It’s B.S. And if the mayor were playing for Charleston, he would be calling out the SPA for creating this codswallop. But he’s playing for the other team.

Which brings us to Hizzoner. This week, Charleston was placed on yet another “Watch List,” this time the 2012 World Monuments Fund “Watch List,” because of the rising number of cruise ships arriving in its harbor threatens “to undermine the very character that entices visitors to come to the town in the first place.”(4) The Post and Courier story adds that, “The listing calls global attention to Charleston’s cruise-ship debate — and how some feel the city considered the birthplace of the nation’s preservation movement is not doing enough to protect its future.”(5) Mayor Joseph Riley’s reaction was sadly predicable, “This group doesn’t know what they’re [sic] talking about.” Of course that would also mean that the National Trust for Historic Preservation doesn’t know either.

So let’s look at the statistic that both the mayor and SPA spokesman Bryan Miller repeat frequently, that only 3% of all tourists come via cruise ships. That figure assumes that there won’t be more cruises in the future, or that the ships won’t be larger in the future. This lovely status quo scenario is unlikely given that neither the SPA nor the mayor will codify [legally limit] either the size or number of cruise ship visits, and that’s why Charleston is now on two “Watch Lists.” But let’s assume that cruise ships visiting Charleston won’t be larger than 3,500 passengers. Consider this: 3,500 passengers disembarking at the same time (not counting the crew of at least 1,000) is the equivalent of 15 average-sized passenger jets unloading all at once, all in one place! Even the Charleston International Airport–with modern tourist facilities and full staff, a giant terminal and huge parking lots, away from the congestion and constraints of downtown–doesn’t have to deal with such an intense concentration of people. The other deliberately ignored corollary is that tourists coming by plane, train, or car come to Greater Charleston but then end up everywhere, from golf courses on Kiawah, to beaches on Sullivan’s Island, to downtown as well as James Island or Middleton Place.

Cruise ship tourists are unleashed, in concentrated throngs, all in one place and left to wash over downtown and an historic district that has neither the space nor the facilities to handle them.

So the logical thing would be to move the cruise terminal away from downtown, right? After all, no one would think of building a new airport downtown, and somehow, everyone flying into an airport gets to wherever they want to go. So you may be amazed that the SPA isn’t remotely interested in this solution. Read quotation from a July P&C article by David Slade: “In an acknowledgement that the plan is controversial and that opponents want few cruise ships or none at all operating from Union Pier, SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said repeatedly that without the new passenger terminal there would be no Union Pier redevelopment. It’s an all-or-nothing deal, the way the SPA presents the plan. Either keep Union Pier as it is now, or embrace cruise ships and the new terminal.”(6) The SPA is the very definition of “compromise.”

“In 50 years, will we be honoring those who guided our cruise ship decisions of today, or will we be scrambling to change the names of public facilities and pulling down portraits and statues,” concludes the Mercury editorial. On this point, neither the current SPA officials nor the mayor will be revered in 50 years; maybe they don’t care.

–Jay

1) Preservation Society assessment of the Union Pier Terminal design

2) We are against Jobs – Mercury

3) Opponents of Cruise Tourism in Charleston sue Carnival – USA Today

4) World Monuments Fund – Charleston Historic District

5) Historic District on New Watch List – P&C

6) It’s Full Speed Ahead for the SPA Cruise Plan – P&C