Archive for February 2012

Today’s P&C editorial: “Task force should step it up”- “…The elephant in the room is cruise ships.”

Task force should step it up, Post and Courier, February 28, 2012, editorial.


At the end of last week’s Peninsula Task Force meeting, one member offered a challenge to the group: We’ve lost     momentum. Let’s get back on track and take on the tough initiatives that we were charged with tackling.

What a great idea.

When Mayor Joe Riley and Historic Charleston Foundation Director Kitty Robinson teamed up more than a year and a half ago to establish the task force, the issues that were on people’s minds were difficult:

What do we do about traffic on peninsula Charleston? Bicycles? Hotels adjacent to residential areas? How do we preserve neighborhoods and maintain diversity? What about cruise ships, affordable housing? The general “delicate balance” of tourism, business and livability for residents?

The task force with members from neighborhood associations, businesses, the port, environmental interests, preservation organizations, the College of Charleston and the tourism industry, rather quickly hit a snag: There seemed no resolving the divide on the issue of cruise ships, so the topic was shelved.

Certainly the task force did some good work assessing how people get around the peninsula and how to ease congestion. Some recommendations regarded bicycles, buses, pedicabs and walking. As a result, the city added bike parking in key places downtown. Some free bus service was made available. And King Street is closed to vehicles one Sunday a month so people can shop, stroll and have lunch.

Still, on Friday members spoke about the greater number of proposals that have languished.

The elephant in the room is cruise ships. Indeed, it was after the Historic Charleston Foundation engaged Miley and Associates to do an independent evaluation of the impact of cruise ships (which have enthusiastic support from the mayor) that the monthly meetings stopped happening.

Now that the Historic Charleston Foundation has received results of the study, and the meetings have recommenced, the task force should try again.

Jim Newsome, president of the State Ports Authority, is a member of the committee, as are people who live nearby, people whose businesses might be affected by cruise passengers and environmentalists. Failing to use their collective wisdom, information and experience would be shortchanging the city and its residents.

Skeptics have wondered from the start of the committee if it would be yet another group to meet, talk and recommend — without making a substantial difference.

This is not the time for the group to shrink from tough issues facing the peninsula.


Copyright © 1995 – 2012 Evening Post Publishing Co..

A Tale of Two Studies

…the cruise industry: “It’s like a circus.”

The long-awaited Historic Charleston Foundation Cruise Ship Study executive summary is out. This new study demolishes the findings in the Crotts and Hefner (C&H) 2010 study conducted for the State Ports Authority (SPA)(1), and it decimates the rosy forecasts for cruise ship tourism. The Post and Courier editorial about it was headlined, “Report on Cruise Industry should open City’s Eyes.”(2) It won’t open the mayor’s eyes, but it should open yours.

Here are a few highlights from this new HCF Study conducted by Miley & Associates:

√ – That over-hyped $37 million annual spending number from the old study was always suspect. Promoted by the SPA to parade the economic benefits of cruise ships for the City of Charleston, the new HCF study says that figure is not merely “overstated,” but any benefits are spread out across three counties, not just the City of Charleston. The study concludes that positive “impacts on the City of Charleston are a fraction of that $37 million.” – “Miley & Associates found that the hotels most benefiting from cruises are not in the historic city,” but in North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. √ – “[T]hat Carnival Cruise Lines purchases most supplies directly from manufacturers, not from local merchants,” so these projected revenues in the original C&H/SPA study must be deducted from that inflated $37 million figure. √ – “The [HCF] study found that cruise ship passengers visiting Charleston spend only one-tenth of what other tourists spend,” or $66-a-day for cruise passengers vs. the $718-a-day for traditional Charleston tourists! √- And the HCF study “casts considerable doubts” on the prediction that cruise ships will create “407 new jobs [as] presented in [the original] report…widely cited by the SPA, the City of Charleston, and the General Assembly…”(3)

So not only has the SPA been selling an overblown, Pollyannaish, bill-of-goods about the alleged benefits of cruise ship tourism, it ignored the major risks: – It took years of planning and effort for the City of Charleston to become a world-class tourist destination, but a “tipping point” may be reached with the “city’s reputation…harmed by the perception that is has been overrun by the cruise industry.” – There is also a risk that cruise lines could leave Charleston as quickly as they came (Carnival has 78% of the City’s cruise ship passengers). Cruise lines recently pulled out of Mobile, San Diego and Norfolk–“leaving communities holding the bag–or the bill–for multi-million dollar facilities” similar to the $35 million terminal that the SPA, a state agency, is championing for Union Pier. Incidentally, has anyone seen the SPA’s agreement with Carnival? – Then there is the continuous, noxious, bunker fuel air pollution and noise from the ships.

The original C&H-SPA study also failed to calculate the costs related to cruise ship tourism, from the expense of extra police details to handle auto and pedestrian traffic to the intangible cost of the extra time it takes to commute when ships are docked. The C&H study did not estimate the impact of cruise ship tourism the retail landscape of downtown Charleston, positive or negative, even though we’ve seen changes. It did not compute possible health costs tied to pollution. It certainly didn’t calculate the opportunity cost to the City of forgoing the private, multi-use development of the entire 65-acre Union Pier waterfront property that should feature parks, shops, restaurants, hotels and condos, with huge taxable benefits to the city–all lost by sacrificing much of that land for a warehouse-like terminal and endless acres of cruise parking.

So how did the first study get it so wrong? Professors Crotts and Hefner made several assumptions. C&H estimated impacts over three county area, yet the study was widely seen as a study on benefits to the City of Charleston. C&H added hoped-for revenues that never materialized; ignoring, for example, Carnival’s system to provision its regional ships from its Florida headquarters, buying little locally. C&H also exaggerated job creation; most of the jobs needed to handle cruise ships already exist in any port city. Then they plugged their limited data into IMPLAN (4), an economic impact software program that some say is inappropriate to evaluate a tightly controlled, mobile, vertically integrated business like the cruise industry. IMPLAN introduces “multipliers” that may have further exaggerated results.

The cruise industry is different. “It’s a lot like a circus,” said one respected economist and researcher. Traditional businesses and industries, from Croghan’s Jewelry Box to Boeing, buy property, build, buy or lease buildings, pay business, property and sales taxes, hire and train local people, and along with their employees, create deep community roots within local schools, charities, hospitals, museums etc. But the tightly controlled, vertically integrated, mostly offshore cruise industry doesn’t. “It’s a lot like a circus” that comes to town, tries to get everyone under the big tent (or on the big ship), sells them as many things inside as possible, then pulls out when the customers stop coming. “I like the circus,” he said, “but it doesn’t invest in a community in the way a traditional business or industry does.”

Dr. Harry Miley put it more delicately, “Details of the scheduling and logistics of passengers and suppliers coupled with the extremely efficient operating techniques of the cruise industry leave little room for positive economic impacts on the City.”(5)

The Post and Courier accurately observes, “the stakes are high regarding the cruise industry,” and that the new HCF study “confirms concerns that preservationists, environmentalists and many downtown residents have been expressing. City Hall should pay heed”(2) Good luck on that.


# # #
1) Port’s Cruise Ship Business worth $37M, study says – Charleston Business Journal
2) “Report on Cruise Industry Should Open City’s Eyes” – P & C
3) “The Cruise Industry in Charleston – A Clear Perspective – Executive Summary,” Miley & Assoc.
4) IMPLAN – economic impact modeling software
5) “Independent and Objective Economic Report…” HCF website story

Cruise industry yields mixed business for local restaurants- a Live 5 report

The Carnival Fantasy took off from the Charleston port on Monday and some local restaurants are noticing business isn’t booming when the cruise ship is in town.

Days when cruise passengers get on and off the Carnival Fantasy are very busy down at the Port of Charleston. Passengers say they were just excited to get onboard, but some local restaurants are feeling the impact of these turn around days more than others.

Eighty-four cruise ships are scheduled to visit Charleston this year, bringing in thousands of tourists to the holy city.

But out of the 84, only 14 will call on Charleston as a port of call. The remaining 70 are turn around days for the Carnival Fantasy.

“On days like today when it’s Carnival, as you can see we’re starting slow and they’ll trickle in and it won’t be the same impact as a port of call,” said Richard Coleman, manager of the Noisy Oyster.

Coleman says when the Carnival Fantasy is in town, business for him slows down.

A recent report commissioned by the Historic Charleston Foundation says many tourists spending money in the holy city are not cruise ship passengers at all.

Another study by the College of Charleston shows nearly $37 million annually will come into the Charleston area as a result of the cruise ship industry and that 400 jobs will be created.

Some restaurant managers also say road closures near the cruise terminal have an affect on business, especially with locals coming to visit.

Copyright WCSC 2012. All rights reserved.

Today’s P&C editorial: “Go green with cruise ships”- “…Juneau…Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles have added shore-side power. Brooklyn is coming online this year.”

Go green with cruise ships, Post and Courier, February 12, 2012, editorial.

In an effort to enhance the port and its reputation as a first-class place to do business, the State Ports Authority plans to build a new terminal with dual rail access in North Charleston, move and upgrade the passenger terminal and help port trucks switch to cleaner fuel.

The port could further improve its operations by installing shore-side power for cruise ships calling here.

The trend to cleaner power began in 2001 in Juneau. Since then, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles have added shore-side power. Brooklyn is coming online this year.

Instead of idling the engines to keep lights on and air conditioning working while they are docked, shore-side power allows ships to hook up to the equivalent of a large electrical outlet and turn off the engines. That means less unpleasant air emissions.

Of course, it also means expenses both for the port and the ship owner to add necessary equipment. The Port of San Francisco spent $5.2 million on its system. And while it takes $1 million of equipment for a cruise ship, officials say cruise lines will save in the long run. Power supplied by diesel runs around $18,000 for a 10-hour call while the new shore-side power averages around $16,000 for the same amount of time.

Other ports have found creative ways to finance the improvements. For example, the corporation that manages Brooklyn’s cruise terminals will subsidize some of the cost of the power, as will the New York Power Authority. The remainder of the cost will be paid by the Carnival Corp., whose ships utilize the Brooklyn homeport. Carnival (with cruises originating in Charleston also) will spend millions to retrofit its ships that use the Brooklyn port.

The Port of San Francisco is working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to price shore-side power at a rate that’s cheaper than using onboard engines while docked.

California regulations require phased-in shore-side power beginning 2014, so ports are reaching out to cruise lines to make them aware of possible grant funding available for retrofitting their ships.

The shore-side power focus has been primarily on cruise ships, which idle for hours as passengers debark, visit a port and return to the ship. The diesel burns the whole time.

And in Charleston, where the cruise industry is already a source of discord, shore-side power could be viewed as an olive branch — a way for the SPA to address one of residents’ concerns about the size and number of cruise ships and the pollution they cause.

The timing is also convenient. The SPA is not yet finished its terminal design plans. Adding shore-side power up front while construction is under way instead of retrofitting later makes sense.

The Navy has used shore-side power for years. Why shouldn’t Charleston?

Adding shore-side power will require teamwork. SCE&G needs to be part of the plan, as do the SPA and its biggest clients.

Shore-side power is quiet, clean and odor-free.

It is clearly the right thing to do for residents and passengers alike.


“Report on cruise industry should open the city’s eyes”- an editorial in today’s P&C

Report on cruise industry should open the city’s eyes, Post and Courier, February 9, 2012, editorial. 

A new report on the cruise industry’s impact on historic Charleston confirms concerns that preservationists, environmentalists and many downtown residents have been expressing. City Hall should pay heed.

The independent assessment, commissioned by the non-profit Historic Charleston Foundation and prepared by financial and economic consulting firm Miley & Associates of Columbia, paints a much less appealing picture than the one put forth by the S.C. State Ports Authority.

It finds that the SPA’s claims about the extent to which cruises boost the downtown economy are too rosy. It suggests that the city, which has declined to regulate the number and size of cruise ships in Charleston, should indeed ensure that the cruise industry is managed and controlled, as are virtually all other attractions and activities governed by the city.

And it says the city, which provides many of the services required by cruise ships, should be receiving a portion of the parking and per-passenger fees (about $10 million a year) that now go to the SPA alone.

The study is clear in noting that the port is well run and respected, and has served the area and the state exceptionally well: “This report should not be interpreted as a negative report on the SPA or the cruise industry.”

But the report does elaborate on troubling cruise issues.

For the last few years, the SPA has responded to complaints about cruise ships flooding the Market area with people, polluting the air and towering over the historic city’s fabled skyline, by providing information about the industry’s benefits to hotels, restaurants and merchants.

Miley & Associates found that the hotels most benefiting from cruises are not in the historic city and that Carnival Cruise Lines purchases most supplies directly from manufacturers, not from local merchants. The study found that cruise ship passengers visiting Charleston spend only one-tenth of what other tourists spend.

To date, the mayor and City Council have followed the SPA’s lead on the cruise ship issue.

It is time for them to recognize that critics of the industry have legitimate concerns, which they, as elected officials, need to address.

They should start with the proposal to put binding restrictions on the number and size of cruise ships. The SPA has said it will allow no more than 104 a year.

HCF’s consultants recommend that the city should have a firm contract with the SPA, establishing who will own and control the portion of Union Pier that will be vacated when the passenger terminal is moved farther north, and who will pay for its development.

Other good ideas include creating a citizens commission to oversee and advise council on cruise issues and commissioning an independent study to determine the resources that the cruise ship industry cost the city.

The consultants concede the limitations in the scope of the study and recommend that an impartial economic impact analysis be conducted. It should be sponsored by those with a stake in the cruise industry’s future — from neighbors to longshoremen to environmentalists.

Mayor Joe Riley has said that those who want city controls on the cruise industry are a small group of people who don’t understand Charleston and think it should feel more like a gated community than a real city. He bridled at the National Trust for Historic Preservation including Charleston, because of the cruise industry, on its watch list for endangered cities.

This study acknowledges that the cruise industry indeed poses a risk to the historic charm of Charleston and could taint its excellent reputation as a world-class tourist destination.

Supporters of the cruise industry shouldn’t dismiss this report the way they have dismissed residents and merchants who have registered concerns about the size and number of ships in Charleston and their environmental impact.

And the city should pay close attention to its findings and recommendations, and not solely those made by the SPA.

From either perspective, the stakes are high regarding the cruise industry.

The city needs to balance cruise ships’ benefits and the industry’s impact on the ambiance and livability of the historic district. That balance is important to residents, tourism and the local economy.

Independent and Objective Economic Report Commissioned by Historic Charleston Foundation: The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective

Publisher: Historic Charleston Foundation
Date: 02/08/2012
Website: The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective (pdf)

Since early 2010, Historic Charleston Foundation has facilitated inclusive community dialogue concerning the landside impacts of the cruise industry, relating specifically to the historic district of downtown Charleston. The Foundation’s most recent advocacy work includes commissioning an independent report on the economic impacts of the cruise industry in Charleston. The report provides an objective analysis and perspective on the economic impacts of the cruise industry to the City, providing the community fact-based statistics on which to make informed decisions.

The Foundation researched economic firms in March 2011, and hired Miley & Associates, Inc., a well-known economic consulting firm in South Carolina and the author of other high profile economic impact reports. The Foundation-commissioned report is titled The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective.

Recognizing the significance of the State Ports Authority to Charleston and the state of South Carolina, this report clarifies the key issues concerning the City of Charleston and its residents. This report also considers the costs of the cruise industry to the City of Charleston and provides the community with findings related to: trends in the cruise industry, its economic impacts, as well as opportunity costs and quality-of-life issues inherent to the cruise industry in Charleston’s historic district.

“Because some of the impacts accrue to surrounding cities and towns, the direct economic impact on the City of Charleston’s historic district is minor,” said Harry Miley, President of Miley & Associates, Inc. “While the State Ports Authority is a major employer in the state of South Carolina, the recommendation to limit the volume and size of the cruise industry would not affect any jobs related to the existing cruise business in Charleston today.”

The report addresses some of the benefits of the industry as well as some of the risks, such as:

–  A visitor staying in Charleston spends a longer time and more money than the typical cruise ship visitor.  If the cruise business becomes too large it could displace other visitors to Charleston.
–  The industry typically attempts to maximize the spending by the passengers onboard the ship and minimize the spending by the passengers when they are off the ship.
–  The hotels that are most impacted are not in the City of Charleston.
–  The potential for spending in the City by Carnival passengers is relatively limited due to the timing of embarking and disembarking of passengers.

“Details of the scheduling and logistics of passengers and suppliers coupled with the extremely efficient operating techniques of the cruise industry leave little room for positive economic impacts on the City,” said Miley. “This report estimates that the State Ports Authority will collect as much as $10 million in parking and head tax fees in a typical year from the cruise industry. None of these revenues goes to the City of Charleston.”

The report concludes with several recommendations:

–  The City should ensure that the cruise industry is managed and controlled, as are virtually all other attractions and activities governed by the City.
–  As a major stakeholder in the process, the City should become more involved with the negotiations with the cruise industry and the State Ports Authority.
–  The City should negotiate with the State Ports Authority and cruise industry to impose a reasonable passenger fee to help offset costs that the City may incur serving the cruise industry. With these funds, the City should create an “Infrastructure Fund” to offset the cost of infrastructure improvements that will be required for the redevelopment of the southern portion of Union Pier and the special initiatives presented in the Union Pier Concept Plan. Such improvements could benefit the cruise industry as well as other sectors of the local economy.

To read the executive summary of The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective, visit Funding for this objective report was made possible in part through a contribution by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Foundation will continue to work toward the provision of a productive solution to the quality of life in Charleston as it has over the past two years on the subject. For more information and a timeline of the Foundation’s advocacy efforts, visit

“Groundhog Day”

When last we wrote, we quoted one Bruce Smith in his letter to the Post and Courier. Mr. Smith took a fresh, long term-look at Charleston’s future and the cruise ship terminal issue: “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 noted 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.”(1)

So with a new year, the mayor’s 10th inaugural signaled a fresh, new approach to the cruise terminal debate…right? No. P&C columnist Brian Hicks, in a fawning article about Mayor Riley, wrote, “He took a shot at cruise ship opponents — hey, it wouldn’t be the mayor if he wasn’t a little snarky — by declaring that this a working city, not a gated community. It’s a place where at any given moment you might hear ‘the announcement from the Coast Guard station; or on another part of the peninsula, ships arriving or embarking; fire engines …'”(2) So the lingering problems of the fire department (3), the police department (4), the Crosstown (5,6), the cruise ship terminal…continue. New year, same old stuff.

No worries. There are more problems. The State Ports Authority (SPA) is apparently trying to figure out how “[t]he Port of Savannah has leapfrogged ahead of Charleston to become one of the nation’s busiest ports, and some fear that deepening the Savannah River could tip the scales further in Georgia’s favor.” One clue might be that the Georgia ports authority found out that the Panama Canal was going to be widened; perhaps that was a story that the SPA missed, because “while Savannah’s [permitting process] began in 1996 and is due for a final decision next year… “Charleston’s proposed deepening is at the beginning of a multiyear study process.”(7) Does anyone wonder why Charleston waited so long to start its permitting process? Is anyone asking that question?

Here’s another question. In its battle with Savannah, “The State Ports Authority is campaigning for the federal government to study the relative merits of all Southeastern ports (particularly Charleston vs. Savannah) regarding post-Panamax dredging.”(8) That’s a great idea. Look at the two sites, have a third party compare them using objective criteria, and determine which one is better. An objective, merit-based study. So why, then, is the SPA stonewalling against a similar study to compare different sites for a new Charleston Cruise terminal? When the SPA is battling against Savannah, it wants an impartial study. But when the SPA has a compliant mayor, an emasculated City Council, and an uninvolved state legislature (except for good efforts of Senators Chip Campsen and Chip Limehouse), the SPA chooses to avoid a much needed, objective, merit-based study to determine the best location for a cruise ship terminal. No problem. No one loses here except the people and future of Charleston.

That’s not all. As the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association’s Randy Pelzer wrote in an Post and Courier op-ed, the SPA charges that Georgia’s dredging project inadequately addresses the environmental issues of depleted oxygen levels that would endanger fish and water quality in the Savannah River. But isn’t this the same SPA that’s objecting to an environmentally-friendly shore-side power requirement for cruise ships in the face of the toxic, bunker-fuel pollution that drifts and drops across the City of Charleston every time a cruise ship is in port? So when it comes to choosing the best location for a Charleston cruise terminal, or protecting Charleston’s air quality from noxious soot and pollutants, Randy Pelzer concludes: “A merit-based study is right for the dredging issue. And it is right for the SPA cruise terminal.”

The problems are so obvious at Union Pier, that no fewer than six different Charleston neighborhood, environmental, and historic organizations that have studied the issue have called for “for an independent study of the location the State Ports Authority has chosen for a new cruise passenger terminal.”(9)

But 2012 is likely to be 2011 or 2010 all over again. The longest serving mayor in America has gotten another four-year term. And the SPA’s CEO was just awarded a new seven-year, $350,000 a-year contract (not including bonuses).(10)

One final question. Was it our mayor or the SPA CEO who said, “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…we all know and agree [on what] would be the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.”(1) It was neither of them. It was letter-writer Bruce Smith.


# # #

1) “No Deals” – letter to the P&C
2) Hicks Column: Riley’s City Already a Great One – P&C
3) “The Same Mistakes…” BuildingsonFire . com
4) Memo told Police Officers to Hide Key Crime Details – P&C
5) How the City Plans to Fix the Crosstown – P&C
6) “Crosstown Canal” – letter to the editor, P&C
7) “What’s at Stake with Savannah Dredging” – P&C
8) “SPA Should Extend its Fair Study Criteria to Cruise Terminal” – Randy Pelzer
9) “Groups Call for Terminal Study” P&C
10) SPA Chief gets $50,000 raise, 7-Year Contract” – P&C

“Ports Authority hostile to human health”- a letter to the editor in The State newspaper today

“Ports Authority hostile to human health,”   The State, February 3, 2012, letter to editor

The State Ports Authority’s objection to the go-ahead given to Georgia for Savannah River dredging is supposedly based on its grave concern that the health of marine life will be adversely affected.

At the same time, however, the Ports Authority is more than willing to dock its pollution-spewing cruise ships smack-dab in the middle of a high-density residential area. The ships’ smokestacks will be within a few hundred feet of 160 homes along Laurens Street and will affect all of peninsular Charleston. The authority is refusing to install shore-side power for ships, which would help alleviate this serious health detriment.

How is it that the Ports Authority answers to no one other than its board members? Board members are not elected officials, and while the governor can fill a vacancy, she can’t un-appoint members. The Ports Authority is a state agency and pays no state taxes and seems omnipotent. Taxpaying citizens have no influence, through elected officials, over the authority’s conduct. That simply is not right and should be changed. Citizens who reside full-time in Charleston and pay huge property taxes are maligned by the Ports Authority, their concerns dismissed, while all consideration is given to cruise customers who come and go. Both the mayor and Ports Authority have disparaged venerable preservation groups that have fought for nearly a century to protect the vulnerable and historic environment of Charleston.

Apparently when it’s convenient, the Ports Authority purports to support environmental causes, but citizens aren’t stupid, and we know this is really about competition with Savannah to see who can get its river dredged first. Even if we were to give the Ports Authority the benefit of the doubt about its new-found fervor for the environment, we still would have to conclude that it cares a lot more about the little fishies in the Savannah River than about the health of the citizens of Charleston.

There is, however, an obvious win-win solution here: Move the cruise terminal to a site that is not in the middle of a high-density residential area.

There is plenty of available property along the Cooper River.

Tommie Robertson