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.
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–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.
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
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.