Managing Tourism and more: Let’s connect the dots.

Inauspicious.  That summarizes the first Charleston Tourism Committee Forum, held April 7th in crowded meeting room at 75 Calhoun.  Instead of a forum, citizens were relegated to asking questions on 3×5 cards.  Then, rather than listen to citizen input, one city official chose to pontificate, giving his opinion as fact, declaring that there should be public restrooms near White Point Gardens “because people down there want them,” and that the cruise terminal won’t be moved up to the Columbus Street Terminal, “because it’s the most important cargo terminal in South Carolina.”

To this observer, the first question read from a submitted card was brilliant:  “Given the overbalance of committee members who are either directly involved with tourism or who profit from it,” what assurance can we have that the real tourism issues downtown and in the historic district will be addressed?   No reason to bore you with the non-answer response.

But there is hope that at TONIGHT’S MEETING at the Charleston Museum, the Tourism Committee will actually let the public speak and that City officials might listen. (1)

Why?   First, there was a follow up Committee meeting on May 29th at the Historic Charleston Foundation.   And prior to that meeting, many residents expressed their dissatisfaction of that first meeting to both committee members and city officials.  Secondly, Steve Gates, chairman of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., prepared a cogent 12-page statement of tourism concerns complete with specific recommendations; it appears to be an excellent blueprint.(2)  Thirdly, the committee members, including good new members who have recently been added, appear to be taking their tasks seriously.   And fourth, then came April-May, 2014–perhaps the two most horrible months in history for living in Charleston, a time when even the most oblivious realized that we’ve stepped beyond the “tourism tipping point.”  As the 5-million tourists-per-year threshold may be breached this year, some finally asked the right question:  What is Charleston’s “tourist carrying capacity”?

Yes, there are those who still don’t see the potential catastrophe of rampant tourism.   Only yesterday in the Post and Courier, a letter-writer was near apoplectic that the newspaper editorial board wanted to “‘lighten the tourism load'” as that would surely cause “a major reduction in tourism dollars, resulting in jobs lost and businesses struggling.”(3)   This should be called “reverse NIMBYism.”   The letter writer was from…North Charleston.

That May 29th meeting may have market a turning point for another reason.  Mayor Joseph Riley announced several tourism initiatives on-the-spot, asserting that these problems were so obvious that there was no need to wait for a final report to take action.  He pledged to put three new tourism enforcement officials on-the-street under the supervision of the Livability Officer.  He pledged to continue the moratorium prohibiting any new special events for the peninsula, he said the city would crack down on short-term rentals, and he would ask the city council to end the sale of liquor at midnight for new establishments.  This blog isn’t often complimentary of the mayor, but these were welcome and needed actions.

Yet there’s a large concern beyond tourism that will negatively impact the value and quality of life in Charleston.  It’s equal to the scourge of the proposed, ill-sited cruise terminal bereft of any meaningful restrictions on growth.  It’s large-scale development.  The recently scotched proposal for a new Sergeant Jasper complex is an ominous case-in-point.  That proposal (as presented to several neighborhood associations this spring) called for three large-scale buildings set on three parcels at the west end of Broad Street between the city tennis courts and Lockwood Blvd, and it included plans for a 70,000 sq. ft. office building on the now-vacant St. Mary’s field.  Then to accommodate thousands of square feet of new apartment units, the developers planned a four-story, 700-car parking facility in addition to retail spaces on both Barre and Broad Streets near the center of this huge complex.(4)  The traffic impact on this already-congested corner could be immense.  Right now–not a week or month later–is the time for the city to toughen the requirements for all new large-scale projects that seemingly get approved without adequate parking (or enforcing existing regulations), without adequate open public space, and without any requirement to conduct a truly comprehensive traffic study that considers all existing and potential traffic impacts, not just whatever traffic is added by a new project.

A new Sergeant Jasper project proposal will likely be revealed at any moment.  Will the city ensure us that, before any approval, the proposal will comport with the small scale architecture and historic ambiance of the surrounding neighborhoods and that the traffic impacts will be significantly reduced from the original?

Tourism grew out of control, in part, because five different commissions are involved in promoting, permitting and policing it.   No one, it seems, was managing the big picture.  While it appears that we’re finally focused on the rapidly growing impacts of tourism, and let’s hope we are, there are other big threats.  Let’s study all of them.  Let’s connect the dots.

# # #

–Jay Williams, Jr.
12 June 14

 

Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr., published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and discussions about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is involved with various local organizations, the opinions he expresses are solely his; they do not represent the views of any organization or other individual.  Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. We present these blogs for C4 website visitors as an information source and as an additional way to chronologically follow the debates, commentaries and discussions about cruise tourism in Charleston.

footnotes/links

1)  The Tourism Commission meeting will be held tonight, June 12th, 2014, at the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting Street.  This is an important meeting; please attend!

2)  The CNA board approved tourism recommendations for Charleston.

3)  “Wrong Message,” Letters to the editor, P&C, June 11, 2014
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140611/PC1002/140619915/1025/letters-to-the-editor-for-wednesday-june-11

4)  There is a concise write-up of the Beach Company’s original Sergeant Jasper presentation in the current issue of Preservation Progress, The Preservation Society of Charleston’s magazine.  It is available at the Preservation Society book store at 147 King Street.

The resident in Charleston has become an endangered species.

To Whom It May Concern:

 

To add to the public record of residents on the issue of tourism and its impact on residential neighborhoods, I would like to make the following statements:

 

As a friend who would like to remain anonymous has so aptly put it to me, “ The resident in Charleston has become an endangered species. As such, they should be afforded the protections due to an endangered species.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

The concept of living a life of quiet enjoyment, not the legally deeded kind but the physical kind, has just simply gone missing in downtown Charleston. At any gathering of residents of the neighborhoods, there is always a review of the latest trespass by tourists or college students. I personally would hate to have to count the number of times my dog has stopped to inspect vomit or I have stepped in it in the Harleston Village area. Livability Court and the willingness to cite violators is the only thing that makes living in a college area a possibility. In other neighborhoods, residents have viewed tourists relieving themselves in their driveways, even on their rose bushes. People have had their doors knocked upon followed by inquiries to use the facilities or view their garden. Are we on display like show animals. If so, I’d like to have the city pay for my costumes. I’m fond of Armani.

 

There are several issues at the top of my list.

1. What possible benefit could be afforded residents by putting a cruise terminal with 900 flat surface parking spaces in the residential neighborhoods. The first thing the city could do to prove that it had an interest in the well-being of the residents would be to get that terminal and its fall-out vehicle congestion, people traffic congestion and parking issues out of the residential areas. It cannot be justified and it is foolishness to not accommodate the people and cars elsewhere and transport those tourists to their destination by public transport. The revenue will still be there, the tourists and their cars won’t be. To not do this indicates to the residents that the city administration just doesn’t care about those of us who have no alternative but to use those streets.

2. Shore power. How can a city that has signs outside of schools stating that you should  not idle your vehicle because students breathe there, allow ships to idle in port with no shore power.

 

These first 2 are no-brainers. There is no justification for having the terminal where it is planned to be. There is no reason to add the burden of poor air-quality to the other congestion related quality-of-life issues currently challenging the peace and quiet of those residing on the Charleston peninsula.

 

Why would anyone take prime real estate and plan a 900 space flat surface parking lot?What a stupid use of tax dollars and space. Wherever you decide to put a 900 space flat surface parking lot in the year 2014, it should at least incorporate solar so that the residents of whatever neighborhood you place it in will have an energy break for their troubles. Other countries have managed this. Why can’t we?

 

If you’re going to put something massive in a space so prominent, why not make it world class…think Sydney Opera House. There is a glorious bridge already in place, a world class facility could be placed where the terminal is slated to be. You could put solar over the parking lot and a park on top of the building. Get out of the box and really go for it if you’re going to mess around with the neighborhoods and put something there that everyone can enjoy, not just a tourist bringing a car down so they can get on a ship and go somewhere else.

3. Could we please have a moratorium on building for the hotels and office buildings over 3 stories that have already been approved until we can adopt a set of guidelines for the next 20 years that isn’t based on the last 20 years. When you put a building up that is over 3 stories, and then you do it again and again and again, you have no idea how much you are limiting the light and the visual vista that create a town that feels manageable rather than a city. Go to Charlotte if you want to see a small city. People do not come to Charleston to experience a small city. They come to enjoy, among other things, a historic city with beautiful architecture. The pitiful nature of the ugly architecture that has risen around the city in the last few years is unforgivable. If you’re going to do something, at least try to get it right. I actually sat through a City Council meeting in which a decision that was being requested for a large building was referred to by the presenter as ‘non-precedent setting’. Please. Think about that.

4. Clearly the silo effect of planning events and tourism has to change. Someone must coordinate it all and make it work for the residents, not just visitors.

5. Try to pay a little attention to the residents of the city and their specific needs. A friend of mine  owns a car that was hit by someone and a witness left a note including a license plate number for the car that did the damage. As of 6 weeks later, and many calls to the police, the issue had not even been investigated. The police were ‘too busy’.  As Giuliani stated so many times as he cleaned up New York, “Its the little things that count.”

6.  Public toilets in residential neighborhoods. When I travel, I plan accordingly and don’t expect there to be a public restroom at my disposal. There could be signs that say that “You are entering a residential neighborhood. There are no public restrooms, plan accordingly.” That doesn’t seem so hard now, does it?

 

Thank you for your time.

 

Leslie Scanlan

 

 

 

Titanic… a whale of a ship!

Comparison of the Titanic vs. a current day cruise ship.

Pictures really DO speak louder than words.

Comparison of the Titanic vs. a current day cruise ship.  Pictures really DO speak louder than words.

Comparison of the Titanic vs. a current day cruise ship.
Pictures really DO speak louder than words.

 

Scrutiny due for cruise terminal

Twice a week for the past four years, thousands of Carnival Fantasy passengers have embarked and debarked here.

But as the cruise business churns along, plans to enhance its operations with a new passenger terminal have gone nowhere.

Indeed, just this month, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) sent a letter to the commander of the local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unit to ascertain if any progress at all was being made.

It has been more than six months since U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that the Corps had failed to do due diligence in assessing the SPA’s permit for a new passenger terminal. He threw it out.

Meanwhile, neighbors, preservationists, environmentalists and health professionals continue to contend with cruise ship emissions, crowding and fears that their property values are dropping.

While the SPA has not reapplied for the permit to add pilings, a spokeswoman says plans to build the new terminal have not been abandoned.

The Corps has to wait for that application to be submitted before it can try to meet the demands of the court.

Those demands include showing that the passenger terminal would not threaten the timeless ambiance of the historic district.

That is vitally important to ACHP, which “promotes the preservation, enhancement, and sustainable use of the nation’s diverse historic resources, and advises the president and Congress on national historic preservation policy.”

ACHP is not new to Charleston. In the 1970s, the council played a pivotal role in relocating the terminus of the proposed James Island connector from Beaufain Street to Calhoun to minimize threats to the Historic District. ACHP also encouraged the city of Charleston to expand its Old and Historic District.

In her letter to the Corps commander, ACHP assistant director Charlene Dwin Vaughn said that the council has heard concerns that “the new cruise ship passenger terminal would result in long term and cumulative adverse effects to the Charleston Historic District (HD), a property designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” She notes that concerns aren’t just from residents. “The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Charleston’s HD on a special watch status in its 2012 list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and the World Monuments Fund added the HD to its Watch List in 2012.” Both designations were in light of the cruise industry.

Clearly the Corps will have to determine the likely impact on the Historic District of a massive new passenger terminal and minimize any harm. The SPA’s first application didn’t receive such scrutiny.

The careful and thorough analysis is critical, and arriving at a plan that spares the Historic District harm, eliminates emissions that jeopardize people’s health and considers the quality of life in the Historic District would be a win for the port as well as Charleston, which serves as a magnet for numerous cruise ship passengers.

Let’s base decisions about the cruise industry on firm data, and not let the debate get personal. It’s worth the extra time and effort.

SPA’s terminal ‘victory’ illusory

The State Ports Authority has won another round in court regarding its planned passenger terminal.

But it is losing in the court of credibility with the public by using such legal rulings to avoid doing two things that are clearly the right things to do.

The SPA will not commit to installing shoreside power for cruise ships to use while at dock.

Even Charleston City Council has indicated its concern about air pollution from cruise ships. And both the state and the county medical societies have called for shoreside power on behalf of public health.

Further, the SPA refuses to sign a memorandum of agreement that it will not increase the size or number of cruise-ship calls in Charleston.

SPA president/CEO Jim Newsome has given his word that he won’t grow the cruise business without first informing the city.

Why not an official limit?

Establishing one would defuse a lot of the angst people have about cruise ships and the burdens they put on historic Charleston. Crowding. Noise. Visual insult. And threats to the health of people and to the environment.

And why not agree to shoreside power, which is the present gold standard for reducing air emissions?

Why won’t a state agency do what is best for citizens of that very state?

An agency that considers itself part of Team South Carolina would want healthy neighbors. It would openly discuss where a new terminal should go.

It shouldn’t take a court order for the SPA to do what’s right.

Indeed, while S.C. Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson III ruled last Friday against a coalition of neighborhood associations preservation organizations and conservationists challenging the plan for the terminal, he didn’t say their concerns were wrong.

In essence he said that those who filed the suit were no different from others whose health is in jeopardy because of air emissions from cruise ships.

That might make sense to lawyers, but the public is reasonable to ask why the SPA operates in a way that affects so many people negatively.

Further, Judge Anderson said that the law doesn’t apply to what might happen, only what has happened. So to suggest that more and larger cruise ships visiting Charleston would mean more pollution, more crowding and diminished property values is not admissible. It might not happen.

But again the public is reasonable to fear such an increase and the ills it would bring. Ports around the globe have taken such courses to the detriment of their host cities.

And again, the SPA, which doesn’t intend to grow the cruise business, could put the public’s minds at rest by agreeing to reasonable, enforceable limits.

The State Ports Authority has an economic mission: to grow and to serve more business and industry.

But it is a state agency, and there’s something wrong when a state agency, given the opportunity to do the right thing for the public, chooses not to.

Letters to the Editor | March 2, 2014

I wish to commend Drs. Gilbert Baldwin and Robert Ball for their well-documented case for cruise ship shore power (op-ed, Feb. 9).

One major point was, “Ongoing nearby monitoring of particulate soot and air pollution requires major resources, and it is not a priority among the SPA, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the City of Charleston and other organizations concerned more with jobs than public health.”

What is striking to me is that DHEC seems not to be concerned with public health or the environment. To whatever extent this is true, there needs to be some explanation.

I suggest the governor conduct a nationwide search for a public health trained physician with experience to lead our state’s public health and environment agency.
Moultrie D. Plowden