Archive for April 2015

Spring 2015 Letter to Carnival

Mr. Arnold W. Donald

CEO
Carnival Corporation
3655 N.W. 87th Avenue
Miami, FL 33178-2428

 

Dear Mr. Donald:

The location of a new cruise ship terminal in Charleston has been the subject of controversy since first proposed by the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) over five years ago.

The proposed site at Union Pier in downtown Charleston is directly adjacent to the historic district and historic neighborhoods.

In September 2013 the necessary federal permit was revoked by a federal judge for failure of the Corps of Engineers to conduct required historical and environmental impact studies.

The SPA has yet to re-file for the required permit.

Earlier this month the Charleston Planning Commission, the official body that reviews projects from a sound city planning perspective, voted 8-1 to recommend an alternative location for any new cruise ship terminal.  The Chairman, appointed by the Mayor, expressed the view that a cruise ship terminal hosting 10-15 deck cruise ships and bringing 1000+ cars to and from downtown inappropriate at Union Pier.  This position is shared by a large number of residents and civic organizations.

Our organization, residents and civic organizations do not oppose cruise ships generally, but do share the belief that Union Pier is not an appropriate site to host large cruise ships. We all strongly believe these ships are out of scale with the area, bringing extra traffic to an already congested area and bringing air emissions in the absence of shore power.

We point to other port cities, such as Boston, Miami, St. Lauderdale, San Diego and Brooklyn as examples where the terminals are located outside residential or historic districts.

Now Carnival has added a second larger cruise ship, the Sunshine, to operate out of Charleston along with The Fantasy. We request that you indicate your willingness to work with the City, the SPA and community organizations to explore an alternative terminal location and to use shore power if facilities are made available.

We wonder if the SPA may believe that Carnival is unalterably opposed to an alternate location and unalterably opposed to outfitting ships visiting Charleston with shore power capability?  We hope this is not the case. In fact, we note that in Carnival’s own sustainability reports that you are sensitive to historic and environmentally delicate areas. Likewise, Carnival stated that it believes shore power represents the future for what is used at port cities.

The Charleston historic district is a sensitive small urban area that can easily be swamped by the scale and passenger capacity of modern cruise ships.  Civic groups including The Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation and National Trust for Historic Preservation are working diligently to avoid changing the nature of a district so important from an historic preservation and quality of life perspective.

We note that Disney ultimately decided not to build a theme park near Manassas and Wal-Mart did not build near another Civil War landmark, The Wilderness.

We hope Carnival will demonstrate that same corporate responsibility and use its influence and customer status to avoid large cruise ships docking at the historic district in downtown Charleston.

We look forward to receiving your response.

 

With regards,

Carrie Agnew
Executive Director; C4

 

cc:         Mr. Gerry Cahill, CEO Carnival Cruise Lines

 

 

 

 

The Merchants Are Killing Venice

It’s a chilly Monday morning in Venice, and an icy breeze is cutting through the city’s emerald canals. I’m standing at a busy gondola station, squashed between crowds of tourists, waiting not for a ride but a conversation with Diego Redolfi. It’s prime tourist season in Venice, and free time is scarce for the 49-year-old oarsman.

Redolfi is one of more than 400 gondoliers in this famed aquatic city. Each day, he plies its narrow corridors with an expertly wielded paddle, maneuvering his boat around other watercraft, sometimes missing them by inches. Gondoliers are among the most well-paid workers in Venice, earning as much as $150,000 a year. But even that salary isn’t enough to rent a decent-size apartment here, which is why Redolfi and his American wife now live on a nearby island.

The reason the city is so expensive has everything to do with the long line in front of Redolfi’s gondola stand. Over the past 15 years, cruise ship tourism has increased fivefold, and the monstrous vessels have become both a boon and a blight for the city, which is now the cruise capital of Europe. These water-bound hotels of lousy buffet food and schmaltzy entertainment relentlessly dump tourists into Venice’s narrow streets. This should be a good thing in a city that relies mostly on money from outsiders, and tourists from cruise ships spend millions here every year. But industry critics say these visitors don’t waste much time (or money) in restaurants and shops. Some buy pricey rides on gondolas; most grab a few snacks from the ship and wander the streets before departing at sundown. Of the 20 million people who come to Venice each year, only half sleep here, which is why hotel stays have dropped by two-thirds over the past 25 years.

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Today, day-trippers outnumber both overnight visitors and people who call Venice home. At the same time, the population of Venice is declining, thanks to a dwindling number of jobs that don’t involve tourism, as well as the rising cost of food, transportation and housing. The number of cinemas in Venice has dwindled to two from 20, and business owners now charge “tourist prices” at shops and restaurants even to locals, reversing an age-old practice that made visitors who don’t pay taxes bear a greater financial burden.

Over the past two decades, property owners have increasingly converted apartments into hotels or Airbnb rentals, driving up the costs of permanent housing. The result: Only the wealthy can afford to live here. Three decades ago, more than 120,000 people called Venice home. Today, there are 55,000. By 2030, some demographers predict, there will be no more full-time residents.

Diego Redolfi, who has been a gondolier for 20 years, prepares to pick up a load of tourists for a boat ride in Venice, which has become crushed with tourists in recent decades. “Venice is changing, like the world,” he says. “But it’s still better than any other place in it.” Winston Ross for Newsweek

Disneyland on the Adriatic

Most visitors here are blissfully unaware of what’s happening to Venice. The city’s placid canals, curved bridges and car-free cobblestone streets make it among the world’s most beautiful places. But in 2008, after its population dropped below 60,000, residents organized a “funeral,” complete with a three-gondola cortege carrying a red casket through the city’s canals, to raise awareness about the population decline. The creative protest did nothing to reverse the trend. Both those who live here and those who have been priced out say the soul of the city is dying. What no one seems to be able to agree on: how to resolve the crisis.

Matteo Secchi and his father, Mario, are Venetians by birth and at heart, but not by ZIP code. I meet them one afternoon for some salumi, cheese and a bottle of red wine. Matteo is the manager of a Venice hotel. His father is a distributor for a local winery. At 70, Mario could retire, but work gives him the chance to see old friends in the city he calls home—even if he can’t afford to live here. Instead, Mario lives in nearby Mestre, on the mainland, where he rents an apartment that measures 80 square meters. “I would leave it for 30 in Venice,” he says.

As we eat, father and son argue, as they often do, about tourism. They agree on the problem, which they say is twofold. Longtime residents are being driven out by landlords—who can make more money from wealthy foreigners buying swank vacation apartments than they can renting to families—and by day-trippers, who don’t spend enough money in the city for the government to acquire the kind of taxes it needs to set aside affordable housing for locals.

What they disagree on is the solution. Mario is among a contingent of residents who believe in building gates around Venice and forcing tourists to pay a fee as they come and go. “They should pay, because they dirty the town,” he says. His son believes the tax would turn the city into a theme park. “With an entrance to Venice, we become Disneyland.”

Long before Venice became a tourist sweatshop, city codes capped the maximum rents landlords could charge. In the 1970s, landlords fought to scrap these limits and won, only to watch with dismay as rents spiraled out of control. Fabio Sacco, president of Alilaguna Spa, which runs water shuttles to and from the city’s airport and cruise ship terminal, would like to see the city subdivide some of its palazzos into apartments for couples or young families. “In Venice,” he says, “what we need is medium rents.”

Matteo believes the government should step in too. “The mayor should intervene,” he says, “and force the owners of these apartments to reduce the rent so a normal family can rent it.”

Except there is no mayor of Venice right now. There’s no sitting city government either.

A Sinking Feeling

Part of the reason for Venice’s housing crisis is the city’s most prized asset: water. Since the early 20th century, the Adriatic Sea has repeatedly flooded and damaged the first floors of hundreds of buildings here—yet another reason why the number of apartments is declining. Over the past century, the average water level in Venice has surged, and many experts predict the city has less than 80 years before it is completely underwater.

To resolve this crisis, the Italian government has poured $7 million into the construction of 78 underwater gates designed to divide Venice from the Adriatic whenever sea levels rise to worrisome levels. The project, which began in 2003, is a year or two from completion, but it is now embroiled in a corruption scandal. Former Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, along with 35 public officials and contractors, allegedly skimmed tens of millions of euros from public coffers. The accused officials resigned last summer, and the scandal has left Venice without a formal city government. A federally appointed commissario is now in charge, until the city holds new elections next month, and the fill-in leaders have done little to combat Venice’s housing woes.

“Every person my age understands the problem,” says Alessandro Burbank, a 26-year-old Venice resident. “But those above 50 or so, they’re divided. I love them, they’re humans, but they have the power, and they are the problem. So we just have to wait till the old guys die.”

Burbank and I are sitting on a terrace at sunset in Campo Santo Stefano, a plaza in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. He’s heading to tango class after this interview—with his mom. If it’s hard to imagine a 20-something taking tango lessons with his mother, understand that Burbank and his mom spend a lot of time together. They live in the same apartment, because that’s the only way Burbank (whose father is American) can afford to stay in Venice.

“It’s not just that it’s expensive,” he tells me over a couple of beers. “It’s that there are no places for exactly one guy to live.”

Most of his classmates left to attend a university and never came back. Burbank, a poet, stayed behind and now makes his living working part time as a bouncer and waiter. He has a girlfriend, but she can’t afford to live in Venice either, so she rents an apartment two hours away by train. If there’s a future for them, it probably means leaving the city he loves, which he doesn’t want to do.

“The life you could imagine 10 or 20 years ago is over now,” he says. “To afford a normal life in Venice with a house, a job, a wife, a family, it no longer exists.”

‘It’s Like Making Love’

At the gondola station, Redolfi has only a few minutes to talk before loading his next set of passengers. I step onto his boat to chat, and he tells me how he’s worked as a gondolier for two decades. Now, he says, business is as good as it’s ever been.

Redolfi started working here because his previous job, as a receptionist at a nearby hotel, didn’t pay enough to live in Venice. So at his brother’s urging, he bought a gondola and practiced for 10 to 12 hours a day, for the better part of a year, until he was good enough to traverse the canals. “It’s like making love,” he says of learning his trade. “Sometimes you don’t [master] it after a lifetime. But in the meantime, you can practice.”

Today, Redolfi can afford to live in Venice, but his apartment would be cramped. Plus, there are fewer tourists where he lives. Over the past two decades, he’s watched the city become overwhelmed by visitors. But they haven’t ruined the place, he says—at least, not yet. “Venice is changing, like the world,” he says. “But it’s still better than any other place in it.”

We say goodbye and I step off his gondola, making way for his next tour group, which boards and fills his velvet seats. From the dock, I watch as Redolfi dips his oar into the water and guides his passengers beneath a nearby bridge, then drifts out of sight.

New terminal site worth a look | Editorial

New terminal site worth a look
The Post and Courier

Neighbors, preservationists, environmentalists, physicians, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and even the S.C. Supreme Court have said that the cruise industry is making problems for Historic Charleston.

Now the city Planning Commission has joined the chorus. It is a disappointment and a puzzlement that Mayor Joe Riley has said the recommendation is not even worth considering.

In its meeting Monday to consider proposed changes to the city’s Tourism Management Plan, the Planning Commission surprised the audience by voting 8-1 in favor of reconsidering the site for the new State Ports Authority passenger terminal.

Instead of simply approving the plan, the commission added a stipulation: Consider a site farther away from the city’s congested historic district.

It’s a worthy suggestion and one that the mayor and Charleston City Council should examine seriously when the issue is considered on May 12.

The mayor’s deaf ear on this issue has angered residents, who have been saying for years that cruise ships need to be regulated and that the site of a new passenger terminal needs to be moved.

The mayor has contended that complaints about traffic, congestion, air pollution and noise are exaggerated, unfounded and even elitist.

The SPA contends that it has already investigated alternate sites and chosen Union Pier because it works best. But the public has not been privy to that report, and it should be.

Further, if the SPA is to reapply for a federal permit to drive piles for the terminal, providing such a report will likely be required. So why not go ahead and share the information?

City Council needs to stand up for what is in the best interest of the city and its residents. One factor to take into account is that the tourism management recommendations include construction of a second visitors center farther north on the peninsula. A passenger terminal farther up the river might dovetail nicely.

Planning Commission Chairman Francis X. McCann said at the meeting that the city has the luxury of taking a breather on the subject. The SPA’s construction plans are on hold due to a court ruling. Meanwhile, it has become clear that cruise ships have not grown the local economy as the SPA predicted.

During that lull, city residents should expect that an independent, objective, comprehensive study be done on something as important as the terminal site — and that the full study be made public.

The new guidelines regarding cruise ships, if accepted, ask for four things: remote parking for passengers; shore power to cut down on air pollution from ships running their engines while at dock; a head tax to help reimburse the city for expenses associated with cruises; and a strengthening of the regulations limiting the number and size of cruise ships in Charleston.

Those are all reasonable recommendations, and the location of the terminal is every bit as important to the city of Charleston — particularly its historic area. Maybe more so.

Mr. McCann said that earnest negotiations are not too much to ask of the SPA. He also said that it’s time for Charleston’s leadership to concede that there is not a city in the country or in the world that has benefited culturally from having a cruise terminal in a historic area.

The Planning Commission correctly acknowledged the hard work of the many people who contributed to the Tourism Management Plan. That plan offers insightful and helpful ways to protect the city’s livability amid the strains of fast-increasing tourism. Its recommendation to reconsider locating the terminal up the river should be viewed as an enhancement to the larger plan.

The mayor and City Council have so far been cavalier about their constituents’ concerns and have simply accepted the SPA’s option as presented. But they have offered no acceptable reasons not to negotiate with the SPA to ensure that the terminal site is best for the city as well as for the SPA.

Planning Commission wants city to find alternative site for cruise terminal

Charleston’s long-awaited tourism management plan got a green light to move forward Monday provided city leaders look for an alternative to Union Pier as the site of a new cruise ship terminal.

The city’s Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend to City Council that it approve the plan, with the condition that Council consider a new site for the terminal farther away from the city’s historic district. Dozens of people attended the meeting at the Charleston County Public Library on Calhoun Street.

Horse-drawn carriages and cars, both parked and on the move, share space on lower Meeting Street. Wade Spees/Staff

City leaders, with the help of a 27-member committee, have been working since December 2013 to update the plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1998. It strives to balance the needs of a strong tourism industry with residents’ concerns.

Tourism is a huge industry in Charleston, said city planning director Tim Keane. Visitors make up 16 percent of the city’s economy. And the industry is growing. The city had 2544 hotel rooms in 1995. Today, it has more than 3,569.

The plan addresses: tourism management and enforcement, visitor orientation, quality of life, special events and mobility and transportation.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said City Council approved the plan for the new terminal on Union Pier four years ago. And it won’t cause traffic congestion, he said, because Concord Street will be opened up and traffic will flow more smoothly.

Council isn’t required to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

Carrie Agnew, executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, during the public comment portion of the meeting said “We need to re-establish the delicate balance between tourism and the people who live here.”

She remembers a time when she lived on Hassell Street and had to participate in a conference call in her bathroom because a cruise ship had just arrived and there was so much noise she couldn’t hear the call.

And a cruise terminal at Union Pier will make noise and traffic congestion worse, she said. “It absolutely should not be in the historic district.”

Cruise ship supporters have said the industry is an important part of the Lowcountry’s larger tourism economy and a source of jobs.

Opponents said they don’t want to ban all cruise ships, but they want the authority to consider sites other than Union Pier, and sites farther from the city’s historic district, for its new cruise ship terminal. Legal wrangling over that site — the 60 acres between Market, Washington and Laurens streets and the harbor — has slowed the state’s plans to redevelop the blighted area.

Traffic congestion related to tourism was another major concern raised at the meeting.

Keane said one of the key parts of the plan is to build a new visitors center farther north on the peninsula. People can park there and take public transportation to the historic district, he said. That should help alleviate some of the tourist traffic problems.

City Council must approve the plan. It will hold a public hearing and vote on initial approval on May 12. It will vote on whether to give the plan final approval May 26.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

Letter to Planning Commission re. 2015 Update to the Tourism Management Plan, Cruise Recommendations

April 6, 2015
City of Charleston Planning Commission
68 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29403

Re: 2015 Update to the Tourism Management Plan, Cruise Recommendations

Dear City of Charleston Planning Commissioners:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft City of Charleston Tourism Management Plan—2015 Plan Update. Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (C4) includes residents of the greater Charleston area, downtown business owners, and others concerned that the delicate balance of our historic residential port city be restored while continuing to provide an unforgettable tourist experience. The Coastal Conservation League represents 5,000 members and works to protect the natural landscapes, abundant wildlife, clean water, and quality of life here in South Carolina.

Updating our city’s tourism management plan is an opportunity to achieve a delicate balance between tourism and residential quality of life. Several recommendations related to cruise tourism are included in the document, for which we commend the committee. However, it is imperative that the City take a proactive stance with cruise tourism, as it has done with all other facets of tourism here, particularly since the cruise industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world.

No other cruise port in the world has hosted cruises without detrimental effects, and many have implemented guidelines in order to protect their communities. Implementation of our suggested changes will help our city once again be a leading force for tourism management in the nation as well a vibrant living historic city.

Therefore, here are four changes that will strengthen the document before you tonight:

Shorepower for Ships
Rather than the ongoing milestone “continuing the dialogue on the installation of shore power,” the City of Charleston should expect that the State Ports Authority (SPA) is contracting only homeported ships that are shore power-capable.
If that expectation is not met, the SPA will not renew contracts and only work with homeported ships that are shore power-capable.
Our suggestion complements both the South Carolina State Legislature’s budget proviso, which states that any cruise terminal built or designed in Charleston County during the 2014-2015 fiscal year must be capable of providing electrical shore power to the ships it serves, as well as Charleston City Council’s 2014 resolution, which supports shore power at the cruise terminal if needed. It is needed now. Because it has been demonstrated by the foremost expert on shipping emissions that shorepower is needed, and several other ports around the world have implemented the use of shore power without any regulatory mandate, a recommendation in the updated Tourism Management Plan requiring shorepower capability both landside and shipside for the cruise industry is sensible and overdue.

We recommend the deadline for achieving this milestone be set for the port and city to pass a joint resolution agreeing to these retrofits by December 2015.

Pollution Logs
Charleston takes its water quality and aesthetics seriously, and with good reason: the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism has valued coastal tourism, boat manufacturing, and commercial fisheries as totaling more than $11.5 billion in direct, indirect, and induced resources annually. Federal law allows the cruise industry to discharge raw sewage, garbage, and untreated graywater when at least three miles from shore.
Carnival claims it has a voluntary corporate policy not to discharge anything within twelve miles of shore, but does not provide proof. Therefore, we recommend adding that the port and City of Charleston publish quarterly records supplied by Carnival Corporation on discharges made within   twelve miles of Charleston’s shores, and agree to start doing so within three months.

Legalize limits
The addition of the Carnival Sunshine as a second homeported ship in Charleston shows the need to strengthen the limits of a maximum of 104 cruise visits per year that carry no more than 3,500 passengers per ship.

The current ordinance details a one-year notification process for the SPA to alert the city to increases beyond their currently-stated limits. It is not an ordinance designed to maintain a balance. This should be revised to officially set the limits at 104 ship visits per year, with no ship larger than 3,500 passenger capacity. The city must have the power to do with cruise ships exactly what it does with every other type of tourism.

Location, location, location
We are pleased to support the evaluation of remote passenger parking within a year to reduce congestion.
It is important to note that the City of Charleston and community groups have spent considerable amounts of money and time (Charleston Mobility Report by Gabe Klein; City of Charleston Downtown Plan; City of Charleston Century V Plan) to assess how to reduce traffic congestion on the peninsula, and are examining outer area parking at garages in the Neck area, and increasing shuttles, bike share, and other solutions. To allow cruise passengers to continue to drive into the heart of the peninsula is not consistent with other traffic studies.
In addition, within three months, the port must make public its assessment of alternative sites for the cruise terminal and how it reached the conclusion that the southeast’s most valuable waterfront property is most appropriate as a cruise terminal, particularly when cruise only constitutes approximately five percent of the port’s overall business. The location of a cruise terminal in the heart of historic downtown is in direct contrast with what other cruise ports across the country have designed. The SPA must also show how this particular cruise location fits within the vision the city is moving towards with development and quality of life on the peninsula.
The port should also present the development plan for the entirety of the Union Pier property in order to clarify which entities will have what responsibility—for example, many citizens wrongly believe that if the new cruise terminal is located at the northern end of Union Pier, the city will then own the remainder of the property.
Thank you for your consideration of our suggestions. We seek to make this update to the Tourism Management Plan the best possible, and believe that implementation of our suggestions will do so.

Sincerely,
Carrie Agnew
Executive Director
Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (C4)
cruisestandards@gmail.com
Katie Zimmerman
Program Director
Air, Water & Public Health
Coastal Conservation League
katiez@scccl.org