Archive for November 2011

See today’s commentary & editorial in The Post and Courier

Continue debate on cruise ships, but without vilifying, Post and Courier, November 26, 2011, Commentary, Carrie Agnew, C4 Executive Director

Endangered Charleston, Post and Courier, November 26, 2011, Editorial

Illogic

Imagine that you won last week’s mayoral election and,
with clear, fresh eyes, you had the opportunity to make Charleston an even
better, more livable city than it is.  Bruce Smith, in a letter to the Post
and Courier
, takes this fresh approach:  “Anyone who is willing to tolerate
the [cruise] ships, given their druthers and a clean slate would never allow
them to dock in downtown Charleston.   They will have learned from many other
ports that placement of a terminal slightly removed from the hub of economic
activity and the center of tourism with frequent and free transport to and from
the center of town would be ideal.”  He notes that, “Harbors were never in the
‘center’ of town, even in Charleston, but on the periphery, to avoid all the
detrimental impacts they create… “We have a chance to do it anew, either north
or east of the city’s center, the way our founders would have chosen.”

Mr. Smith suggests that while the economics of the
industry are “attractive,” “our public persona and the quality of our lives
should never be sacrificed…  “Why would anyone think the use of an old
warehouse and a huge parking lot would be a smart decision?   We shouldn’t cut
any deal with the SPA until it is exactly what we all know and agree would be
the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.  On Nov. 2 the
Fantasy was departing, and I could hear every one of the 35 “chimes” and
announcements between 3-4 p.m.  I am nine blocks from the terminal.”(1)

Mr. Smith’s letter implies a fundamental question: “Why
some are wedded to the current and proposed situation is beyond comprehension.”

The answer is that the “go along, get along” mentality of
our public officials is easier than working to create the best solution for the
next 100 years.  And that old way of doing things is steaming ahead.

Last week, the State Ports Authority (SPA) fast-tracked
its “revised” terminal plan through the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and
received preliminary approval.(2)  Of course almost any change to the original
warehouse design would have been an improvement.  The changes include replacing
a roll-down metal door with a folding door and making the bus loading area look
less like a loading dock; but those were changes that should have been in the
initial design given the various architects’ time, money spent, and “public
input,” but were omitted nonetheless.  In a halfhearted-defense of the BAR, the
problem here is more than the design of the terminal.  The bigger problem, as
Mr. Smith points out, is the actual placement of a cruise ship terminal so close
to downtown.

photo
Artist rendering of “revised” terminal plan for Union Pier, provided by the SPA,
published in the Post and Courier.  Click to enlarge.

And the other issue is that people can only “envision”
the building itself, when the far more important problem will be the activity
surrounding this terminal.

So if this “revised” terminal design looks a lot like the
“original” design that we published last week, that’s because it is.  The design
is compromised because the SPA is determined to use an old warehouse as the
basis for its new warehouse-like terminal.  Starting fresh would require
extensive permitting and involve delays in construction.  And the SPA’s obvious
goal is to build its Trojan Horse inside the city walls before Charleston’s
residents wake up to what’s happened their city.  So a warehouse it will be.
Now here’s what really matters.  The terminal will be surrounded by 9 acres of
asphalt parking lots.  And likely fences and security people to keep
non-cruisers away; that will mean that most everyone will be blocked from
getting to the waterfront when the ships are in.  Plus the terminal area will
have accommodations for lots of busses, taxis, vans and carriages to take
cruisers hither and yon, perhaps it will even feature a cell-phone waiting area.
And it will have an 1800′ pier, enough for two cruise ships, not just the one
the SPA has promised us.

What people cannot see or hear now, and many can’t
envision in the near future, are the many provision trucks coming in and out,
the busses and taxis turning, the cars streaming in and parking across these
nine acres, the noise and soot from the ships themselves, or the increasing
masses of people that will be boarding and later disgorging into the various
conveyances and onto the downtown streets.  The “artists rendering” above shows
relaxing hues of a green and blue, but the reality will be less inviting.  What
it will be, of course, is the waterfront equivalent of an airport.  Actually, it
will be the equivalent of an airport, bus station, and vast parking lots
all-in-one.  And none of it will be on the City of Charleston tax rolls.

Yet the go along, get along mentality is so strong that
when the SPA released a completely inane public statement to the Post and
Courier
last week, few noticed.  In announcing that the Port of Charleston
will be transferring materials for a new nuclear plant, “[t]he SPA said it will
be handling about 24,000 tons of equipment bound for the V.C. Summer Nuclear
Station in Jenkinsville (northwest of Columbia), where South Carolina Electric
& Gas Co. and Santee Cooper plan to add two new reactors.”  That’s great.
The release added, “[t]he SPA said the deal underscores the need to keep the
Columbus Street yard as a pure cargo terminal.”  Why?   Because, according to
the article, shipments will begin in December and continue “for more than four
years” as “[a]n estimated 30 vessels will bring in the machinery and other
equipment, with some pieces weighing up to 700 tons, the SPA said.”(3)   Please,
dear reader, do the math.  Ignoring the fact that the SPA owns the huge
Wando-Welch and other terminals that could handle these shipments, or that the
Port of Charleston faces “huge challenges to grow its port,” according to the
SPA President Jim Newsome(4), the SPA is actually telling us that 7 ships a
year over the next four years
is the reason the underused Columbus Street
terminal can’t also be used for cruise ships!?  Seven ships a year!?

photo
Aerial view of the 155-acre Columbus Street terminal with the
Ravenel Bridge in the background.
Columbus Street is more than double the size of Union Pier. P&C photo.
Click to enlarge.

Randy Pelzer, of the Charlestowne Neighborhood
Association’s cruise ship task force, challenged this illogical position.
Pelzer said that a cruise terminal would only use 20% of the Columbus Street
property and it would only be used on a part-time basis, so, “[i]t’s big enough
for both” (cruise and cargo traffic).  But that logic was summarily rebuffed by
SPA spokesman Byron Miller, who offered no data, evidence or rationale for his
terse response: “It’s needed for cargo.”

We note a second letter to the P&C. This is from
residents of Fripp Island who “are frequent visitors to the beautiful city of
Charleston.  We are aware of the prospect of cruise ships gaining more access to
the historic harbor, and are very distressed.  We know concerns have been
expressed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of
Charleston, two neighborhood associations, the World Monuments Fund, the
National Trust for Historic Preservation and numerous citizens, business groups,
taxpayers and others.”  They point out that “[d]espite this, the State Ports
Authority is going ahead with its plans for a cruise terminal with no deference
to these groups and individuals and their concerns about pollution, congestion,
stress on the historic fabric and livability of the city or studying other
locations for the cruise terminal itself.”(5)   They’re right.  The Holy City is
being deluded by bureaucrats, a sophisticated PR machine, and a void of
leadership into making a permanent, scarring sacrifice to its future quality of
life, a sacrifice made all the more illogical given the comment from the SPA’s
Jim Newsome that the cruise business is an important part of the port’s
diversification strategy, “but it will never be part of our growth
story…”(4)

The letter from the residents of Fripp Island concludes,
“We join others in asking for help from the State Legislature to rein in the SPA
to make it responsive to its duty to weigh the negative impacts of its
operations, along with the potential positive ones, on residents and to be
responsible as a government agency to serve the people.”

–Jay

——

1)  No Deals – letter to the P&C

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/nov/11/letters-to-the-editor/

2)  Cruise Ship Facility gets BAR nod – Post and Courier

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/nov/10/cruise-ship-facility-gets-bar-nod/

3)  Port to handle Nuke Plant cargo – Post and Courier

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/nov/09/port-to-handlenuke-plant-cargo/

4)  Port’s CEO:  Charleston’s Port must Grow – Charleston Business Journal

http://www.charlestonbusiness.com/news/41694-ports-ceo-charleston-rsquo-s-port-must-grow

5)  Curtail Cruises – letter to P&C

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/nov/10/letters-to-the-editor/

Comments from Fripp Island, SC

We are homeowners at Fripp Island, and frequent visitors to the beautiful city of Charleston. We are aware of the prospect of cruise ships gaining more access to the historic harbor, and are very distressed. We know concerns have been expressed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, two neighborhood associations, the World Monuments Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and numerous citizens, business groups, taxpayers and others.

Despite this, the State Ports Authority is going ahead with its plans for a cruise terminal with no deference to these groups and individuals and their concerns about pollution, congestion, stress on the historic fabric and livability of the city or studying other locations for the cruise terminal itself.

We join others in asking for help from the state Legislature to rein in the SPA to make it responsive to its duty to weigh the negative impacts of its operations, along with the potential positive ones, on residents and to be responsible as a government agency to serve the people.

Robert Underwood
Susan Underwood
Flying Fish Road
Fripp Island

Also published in The Post and Courier, November 10, 2011, “Curtail Cruises”- 

 

Comments from Tennessee

My wife and I have visited Charleston several times over the past few years. We love the walks around the Battery and the historic district looking at the beautiful homes.

When we first heard of Carnival Cruise lines coming to Charleston, we were both excited. We even cruised out of Charleston on the Fantasy in 2010 after staying at the Harbourview Inn a couple of days. We have cruised with them several times in the past and thought it was great to leave out of Charleston.

We came back to Charleston in July of this year to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary at the Harbourview Inn.

We arrived on a day that the Fantasy was in port. Meeting Street was a complete nightmare. It took over 30 minutes after getting off at Meeting Street just to get to Vendue Range. It was almost like a lightbulb turned on in our vehicle. We both agreed that while we love cruises, we love Charleston even more. When we turned down Vendue and saw the pretty fountain at Waterfront Park, it was dwarfed by the Fantasy. The ship stuck out like a sore thumb.

The black smoke coming out of the funnel didn’t help matters much. We checked in our hotel and then walked to Market Street for lunch. It was noticeably more crowded but we didn’t notice a lot of people shopping.

We hope that your beautiful city doesn’t do like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have done in the Smokies. Both cities started letting cheap T-shirt shops and arcades come into the city. This completely overshadows the beautiful mountains that we have.

People who cruise could care less the exact location of the port in the departure city. They are concerned about ample parking and getting through the boarding process.

Todd Shaver
Natalie Shaver
Willard Way
Blaine, Tenn.

Also published in The Post and Courier, November 3, 2011, “Cruise Lessons”-

 

A broken vision

The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) rejected the State Ports Authority’s
(SPA) cruise terminal design.  As you may recall, the SPA assured us that they
had “a superb design team working on this, including quality local firms.”(1)
Not that “superb,” apparently.  At the end of a “lengthy meeting” last month,
“the majority of BAR members decided that only one of the four sides of the building,
the south side main entrance, was acceptable in its current design…”(2)  That’s a
stunning rebuke for a building design that Mayor Riley stated “will be a beautiful
part of a new public realm.”(3)

There are only two problems with the mayor’s short statement.  One is that the
design for this warehouse-like building is anything but “beautiful.”  The second is
that this 30+ acre project will not be in the “public realm.”  Cruise terminals, for
safety and security reasons, are heavily policed and mostly off-limits to
non-cruisers.  A more honest view of this project comes from a wag writing
the Post and Courier who deemed the design, “A wart on the
water.”

            photo

But while the SPA is focused on spending $35 million to turn an old warehouse
into a new warehouse, Charlestonians should be focused on matters that matter.
Why won’t the SPA agree to put its own promises to limit the number of cruise
ship visits to 104 per year and the maximum size of the ships to 3,500 passengers
in legally enforceable language? Why won’t the SPA agree to demand that
home-ported cruise ships use shoreside plug-in power knowing that
“cruise ships burn the same dirty bunker fuel (basically the leftover product of
refining petroleum) used in every other giant ocean-going vessel, releasing
carcinogen-filled soot into the air wherever they idle at a dock,”(4) or at least
require they burn cleaner diesel fuel?   And, most importantly, why won’t the SPA
and the mayor agree to move the cruise terminal away from downtown Charleston,
a move that would almost certainly remove Charleston from the “Watch Lists”
of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund?(5)

What’s Mayor Riley’s “vision” for the cruise terminal and its obvious problems?  To do
nothing.  And recently, to not even talk about it.(6)  Perhaps he hopes for the
best.  But the best isn’t what’s coming.

“We arrived on a day that the Fantasy was in port. Meeting Street was a complete
nightmare. It took over 30 minutes after getting off at Meeting Street just to
get to Vendue Range. It was almost like a lightbulb turned on in our vehicle,” a
visitor from Tennessee wrote this past week in the P&C.  “The ship stuck out
like a sore thumb…  “The black smoke coming out of the funnel didn’t help
matters much…”(7)  And that’s just what’s here now.  But the 2,056-passenger,
855 foot “Fantasy” is the oldest ship in the entire Carnival fleet! (8)
It’s sailing toward retirement.  And in its wake, every cruise line is only
adding bigger and bigger ships.

To get a glimpse of Charleston’s future, check out a ship of
the type that may replace the “Fantasy.”  The “Dream,” now plying the Caribbean
out of Ft. Lauderdale, features a 70,000 watt, jumbo sized 12′ x 22″ movie
screen, giant whirlpools along it’s half-mile promenade deck, the Drain Pipe
waterslide, a video arcade, a teen club amidst numerous bars, pools and lounges
for adults, dining rooms and a steakhouse, a giant casino, and even social
networking sites scattered throughout the ship where guests can link up with
other guests.  And that’s only a partial listing of the amenities. How big is
this “Dream”?  It’s 130,000 tons, 1,004 feet long, and corrals 3,646 guests
(double occupancy) with a crew of 1,367.(9)  That’s what’s coming, Mr. Mayor,
and already she’s not within those SPA guidelines.  And there are ships out
there a lot bigger than she is.

Carnival Legend cruise ship

Carnival Dream(c) from the Carnival website (9)

Ross Klein, author of “Cruise Ship Blues” and Cruise Ship Squeeze,” says without
controls, the cruise industry could expand exponentially in the city.
“What happens next year or the year after that, when a cruise line
comes along and you end up with a ship every day of the week?” he asked. “Can
the city absorb that amount of cruise tourism without displacing other kinds of
tourism?”(10)

Mayor Riley has done a lot as mayor, but when it comes to the future, his vision
appears to be dimming as he winds down.  The impact of decisions like renovating
the circa-1968 Gailiard Auditorium, that may prove far more costly than $100
million+ already anticipated with far less than optimal results, as well as
permitting a cruise terminal, the congestion-equivalent of siting a bus or
airport terminal downtown with large parking lots, heavy bus, truck and car
traffic, likely a cell-phone waiting area and more, may prove to be expensive
mistakes for Charleston.  But the colossal misuse of Union Pier for a cruise
terminal, which will be a sea of confusion and humanity on the days the ships
are in, but then sit as an idle eyesore the other days, is an inexcusable waste
of the most valuable waterfront property on the East Coast.  Imagine if a new,
Sydney Opera House-style auditorium became the focal point of the entire 65-acre
privately developed Union Pier, surrounded by small streets, parks, shops,
stores, restaurants, offices, hotels and homes!  Amazing is what that would be.
And it would be a huge tax base for the city forever!  And as the previous
letter writer said, “People who cruise could care less the exact location
of the port in the departure city. They are concerned about ample parking and
getting through the boarding process.”(7)

As preservationist, resident and writer Peg Moore noted, “It makes economic
sense for the city and state for the valuable Union Pier property, valued at
over $3 million an acre, to be privately developed and provide a tax base. A
vast $27 million parking lot on Union Pier land is a frivolous proposal. Parking
lots traditionally are a sign of urban decay. Terminal buildings are not
appropriately located by residential neighborhoods, especially in a world famous
historic district.”(11)  Is that vision or just common sense?  Either way, it’s
apparently too much of a challenge for the current mayor.

The next couple of days, with the election on Tuesday and the
BAR rehearing on the cruise terminal design on Wednesday, present rare
opportunities to brighten Charleston’s future.  Please don’t miss them.

–Jay