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


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

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.


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