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

“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


Imagine that you won last week’s mayoral election and,
with clear, fresh eyes, you had the opportunity to make Charleston an even
better, more livable city than it is.  Bruce Smith, in a letter to the Post
and Courier
, takes this fresh approach:  “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 notes 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.”

Mr. Smith suggests that while the economics of the
industry are “attractive,” “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 it is exactly what we all know and agree would be
the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.  On Nov. 2 the
Fantasy was departing, and I could hear every one of the 35 “chimes” and
announcements between 3-4 p.m.  I am nine blocks from the terminal.”(1)

Mr. Smith’s letter implies a fundamental question: “Why
some are wedded to the current and proposed situation is beyond comprehension.”

The answer is that the “go along, get along” mentality of
our public officials is easier than working to create the best solution for the
next 100 years.  And that old way of doing things is steaming ahead.

Last week, the State Ports Authority (SPA) fast-tracked
its “revised” terminal plan through the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and
received preliminary approval.(2)  Of course almost any change to the original
warehouse design would have been an improvement.  The changes include replacing
a roll-down metal door with a folding door and making the bus loading area look
less like a loading dock; but those were changes that should have been in the
initial design given the various architects’ time, money spent, and “public
input,” but were omitted nonetheless.  In a halfhearted-defense of the BAR, the
problem here is more than the design of the terminal.  The bigger problem, as
Mr. Smith points out, is the actual placement of a cruise ship terminal so close
to downtown.

Artist rendering of “revised” terminal plan for Union Pier, provided by the SPA,
published in the Post and Courier.  Click to enlarge.

And the other issue is that people can only “envision”
the building itself, when the far more important problem will be the activity
surrounding this terminal.

So if this “revised” terminal design looks a lot like the
“original” design that we published last week, that’s because it is.  The design
is compromised because the SPA is determined to use an old warehouse as the
basis for its new warehouse-like terminal.  Starting fresh would require
extensive permitting and involve delays in construction.  And the SPA’s obvious
goal is to build its Trojan Horse inside the city walls before Charleston’s
residents wake up to what’s happened their city.  So a warehouse it will be.
Now here’s what really matters.  The terminal will be surrounded by 9 acres of
asphalt parking lots.  And likely fences and security people to keep
non-cruisers away; that will mean that most everyone will be blocked from
getting to the waterfront when the ships are in.  Plus the terminal area will
have accommodations for lots of busses, taxis, vans and carriages to take
cruisers hither and yon, perhaps it will even feature a cell-phone waiting area.
And it will have an 1800′ pier, enough for two cruise ships, not just the one
the SPA has promised us.

What people cannot see or hear now, and many can’t
envision in the near future, are the many provision trucks coming in and out,
the busses and taxis turning, the cars streaming in and parking across these
nine acres, the noise and soot from the ships themselves, or the increasing
masses of people that will be boarding and later disgorging into the various
conveyances and onto the downtown streets.  The “artists rendering” above shows
relaxing hues of a green and blue, but the reality will be less inviting.  What
it will be, of course, is the waterfront equivalent of an airport.  Actually, it
will be the equivalent of an airport, bus station, and vast parking lots
all-in-one.  And none of it will be on the City of Charleston tax rolls.

Yet the go along, get along mentality is so strong that
when the SPA released a completely inane public statement to the Post and
last week, few noticed.  In announcing that the Port of Charleston
will be transferring materials for a new nuclear plant, “[t]he SPA said it will
be handling about 24,000 tons of equipment bound for the V.C. Summer Nuclear
Station in Jenkinsville (northwest of Columbia), where South Carolina Electric
& Gas Co. and Santee Cooper plan to add two new reactors.”  That’s great.
The release added, “[t]he SPA said the deal underscores the need to keep the
Columbus Street yard as a pure cargo terminal.”  Why?   Because, according to
the article, shipments will begin in December and continue “for more than four
years” as “[a]n estimated 30 vessels will bring in the machinery and other
equipment, with some pieces weighing up to 700 tons, the SPA said.”(3)   Please,
dear reader, do the math.  Ignoring the fact that the SPA owns the huge
Wando-Welch and other terminals that could handle these shipments, or that the
Port of Charleston faces “huge challenges to grow its port,” according to the
SPA President Jim Newsome(4), the SPA is actually telling us that 7 ships a
year over the next four years
is the reason the underused Columbus Street
terminal can’t also be used for cruise ships!?  Seven ships a year!?

Aerial view of the 155-acre Columbus Street terminal with the
Ravenel Bridge in the background.
Columbus Street is more than double the size of Union Pier. P&C photo.
Click to enlarge.

Randy Pelzer, of the Charlestowne Neighborhood
Association’s cruise ship task force, challenged this illogical position.
Pelzer said that a cruise terminal would only use 20% of the Columbus Street
property and it would only be used on a part-time basis, so, “[i]t’s big enough
for both” (cruise and cargo traffic).  But that logic was summarily rebuffed by
SPA spokesman Byron Miller, who offered no data, evidence or rationale for his
terse response: “It’s needed for cargo.”

We note a second letter to the P&C. This is from
residents of Fripp Island who “are frequent visitors to the beautiful city of
Charleston.  We are aware of the prospect of cruise ships gaining more access to
the historic harbor, and are very distressed.  We know concerns have been
expressed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of
Charleston, two neighborhood associations, the World Monuments Fund, the
National Trust for Historic Preservation and numerous citizens, business groups,
taxpayers and others.”  They point out that “[d]espite this, the State Ports
Authority is going ahead with its plans for a cruise terminal with no deference
to these groups and individuals and their concerns about pollution, congestion,
stress on the historic fabric and livability of the city or studying other
locations for the cruise terminal itself.”(5)   They’re right.  The Holy City is
being deluded by bureaucrats, a sophisticated PR machine, and a void of
leadership into making a permanent, scarring sacrifice to its future quality of
life, a sacrifice made all the more illogical given the comment from the SPA’s
Jim Newsome that the cruise business is an important part of the port’s
diversification strategy, “but it will never be part of our growth

The letter from the residents of Fripp Island concludes,
“We join others in asking for help from the State Legislature to rein in the SPA
to make it responsive to its duty to weigh the negative impacts of its
operations, along with the potential positive ones, on residents and to be
responsible as a government agency to serve the people.”



1)  No Deals – letter to the P&C


2)  Cruise Ship Facility gets BAR nod – Post and Courier


3)  Port to handle Nuke Plant cargo – Post and Courier


4)  Port’s CEO:  Charleston’s Port must Grow – Charleston Business Journal


5)  Curtail Cruises – letter to P&C


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.


What makes Charleston Charleston?

Good afternoon,

We’ve written two commentaries, published elsewhere, that you may
wish to read.  This week, “What makes Charleston Charleston?” appears
in Charleston Currents online.  It begins, “For Charleston, there’s good
and bad news.  The good news is that Charleston dethroned San Francisco as
the No. 1 tourist destination in America…”

We hope you’ll read the rest of “What Makes Charleston
Charleston?”  To do so, please click this link:

And earlier, an edited version of a previously well-received
commentary, “In My Dream,” was published in the Post and Courier.  If
you’d like to imagine a better, alternate vision for Union Pier and Charleston,
one that differs from that of the SC Ports Authority and Mayor Riley, please
read “Reasonable Cruise Regulations should be More than a Dream” here:

On a personal note, thank you for your response to these
opinions and commentaries.  Whether or not you agree with our views, encouraging
an open and honest discussion concerning the “highest and best use” for Union
Pier and regulation of cruise ship tourism is essential if we want Charleston’s
future to be as treasured and celebrated as her past.    –Jay

Waves of Criticism

The un-listening mayor and the defiant Ports Authority were
pilloried in this week’s Charleston News Alternative.  A must-read front
page article, “The Cruise Ship Controversy: A Summary,” suggests that
“…Charlestonians need to ask questions to help determine if Mayor Joseph P.
Riley, Jr. and the officials at the State Ports Authority (SPA) have acted in
the best interests of all concerned.”  Explaining a number of cruise ship
issues, including zoning, pollution, the terminal “design,” the economics and
the politics of the controversy itself, publisher Bryan Harrison puts his finger
on two most critical:

“The city has reached an agreement with SPA that only two ships each week
can dock here, but the agreement is meaningless. There is nothing in writing,
but the Mayor continues to assure that such a codified agreement is

For a man who has been in politics most of his adult life and
a mayor for 36 years, it is hard to believe that he can be this naive. Those in
favor of tighter controls don’t trust an agency they feel hasn’t listened to
them.”  The article continues:

“Perhaps the biggest controversy is the location. “…The SPA argues that it is
rescuing the area from blight. Yet, they are replacing an unseemly place with
pavement that could be used for other purposes. If the nine acres [of cruise
parking at Union Pier] could be developed for shops and restaurants, the city
would receive more revenue than it does from tourists whose usual purchases
consist of T-shirts and souvenirs.”  This comprehensive feature is something
that you should read (please see footnote link 1 below).

Another article, “Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems,” appears in CruiseMates.
The article says something that the SPA would rather you didn’t realize:
“Right now Carnival is boarding and disembarking passengers on these budget
five-day cruises in a cruise terminal that is just a few hundred yards from the
historic district.  It is important to note that the ship does not use the city as a
port of call with extensive tour offerings; it uses the city as a place for cruisers
to park their cars and board the ship.”  The article questions any benefit of
putting the terminal downtown.  “In fact, the city has a rule for dropping
off passengers that ‘walk ups are not permitted.’  Every passenger must arrive
in a vehicle, so there is no true benefit for the locals for having the port within
the downtown area.  “Once again, cruisers are not coming to Charleston for
sight-seeing; they are coming to board the ship.”
CruiseMates adds:  “In other words, the only thing the city is
experiencing every five days is a massive traffic jam in one of the most
historic, beautiful and vital residential areas in the entire United

Historic Charleston Foundation’s president, Kitty Robinson, in a
Post and Courier op-ed, again calls for a “solid approach in advocating for
oversight of the landside impacts of the cruise ship industry.”  She specifically
counters one of the biggest lies now being foisted on the public:
“The Foundation’s proposed solution would not have a negative impact on
jobs or the State Ports Authority’s ability to promote economic development
for the state.”   All business is regulated; the SPA wants to be the exception.
The SPA’s continuing defiance is more than strange given that the Foundation’s
“solution” is based on the SPA’s own recommendations.  Ms. Robinson emphasizes
another fact: “This is not just a downtown issue. The continuing success of our
vital heritage tourism economy hinges on maintaining the quality and character
of downtown, and a thriving Charleston contributes significantly to an invigorated
regional economy.”(3)

This blog remains unpersuaded that regulation alone can protect Charleston.
Moving the terminal north, or away from Union Pier, is the only way to accomplish
that. The basis for this position is the city’s own submissive response to SPA and
the cruise industry, especially as the city could later arbitrarily lift any
restrictions that it might impose to still the controversy.  It’s also because
of the potential that financial temptations might arise from the asymmetrical
disparity between the City of Charleston and a behemoth, growing worldwide
$30-billion-a-year cruise industry.  Such a temptation may never occur and would
undoubtedly be perfectly legal if it did, but the opportunity to further the
cruise industry’s fortunes at the expense of the city’s quality-of-life and
preservation efforts would exist.

We come, finally, to the mayoral election.  The only reason we comment on it is
because of the city’s obeisance to the SPA.   The latest Charleston News
editorial, endorsing Dudley Gregorie, says, “We are sure he
[Mayor Riley] believes he is doing the right thing for the city.  We just don’t
understand his political thinking.  Also, we don’t understand his inflexible position.
The people most affected by the harmful effects of the cruise ships have come to him
as their representative, and what they have requested can bring no economic harm
to the city.  Yet, he has been unyielding.”(4)  Today’s Post and Courier says,
“Most of the candidates expressed support for the cruise
industry, though [William Dudley] Gregorie said the city should do more to
enforce the cap on cruise ships that the State Ports Authority has agreed to,
while [David] Farrow said the new cruise terminal should be moved north.”(5)
We like Gregorie, too, but David Farrow has the right answer on this issue.
And, on this issue, either would be preferable to what we have now.


1)  The Cruise Ship Controversy:  A Summary – Charleston News Alternative
2)  Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems – CruiseMate
3)  Preserve Heritage’s Tourism Appeal in our Living City – Post and Courier
4)  We Support – Charleston News Alternative
5)  Mayoral Hopefuls Tee Off on Riley – Post and Courier

So, What does Charleston get?

Good morning,

Are you willing to risk Charleston’s new No. 1 ranking as America’s top
tourist destination?

Then let’s start asking serious questions about cruise ship tourism:
Who benefits?  What are the real costs?

Tom Robinson, in his excellent Charleston Mercury series, “The
Elusive Economic Impact of Cruise Business,” asks another, “There is an economic
impact from cruise ship tourism.  No argument there.  And it’s big. The question
that must be asked, however:  For whom is the impact?”  Robinson lays out the
cruise passenger spending data from Greater Victoria Harbor, the Caribbean and
Key West.  He reveals that in Key West, each cruise passenger spends an average
of just $32.10. “The largest expenditures were for clothing ($6.07), souvenirs
($5.90), and jewelry, china, perfume ($4.00).”(1)

Is that the heady cruiser spending you imagined?

And who can blame embarking cruise passengers for spending so little?
They pre-paid for their cruise, pre-paid for their food, some pre-paid for their
excursions. Any additional dollars a passenger might spend for food here must
be seen as wasteful when the food is “free” on the ship. Importantly, home-ported
Carnival “Fantasy” passengers are preparing to sail away from Charleston to
spend their money elsewhere! Only their cars stay for a week here in Charleston
in what must be the most expensive waterfront parking spaces in America.

Another writer makes this point.  Different cruise lines attract different
kinds of passengers.  “Seabourn or Lindblad focus on sensible sustainable
tourism, educational experiences, and market to those interested in ecology,
history etc.  Other lines target different segments–stressing partying
(Carnival), or family experiences (Disney), shore experiences (Lindblad), or
elegance (Celebrity, Holland America)…”(2)

Robinson observes, “Tourism equals economic impact.  Cruise tourism equals
less economic impact.  Day-trippers equal way less economic impact.  Economic
impact means dollars change hands. Into whose pocket do those dollars go?  Those
of local retailers, innkeepers, service personnel, municipalities and taxpayers?
Or merely the left pocket and the right pocket of a sophisticated, horizontally
and vertically integrated cruise business?”

Where is the money going?  It isn’t going to Charleston.  The city gets no
property taxes; that land belongs to the SPA.  The city gets no passenger fees,
fees that many other cities do get.  And because of food safety concerns and
strict cost controls in the cruise industry, local farmers aren’t getting an
opportunity to provision these ships.   The big money goes to the SPA (docking,
passenger and parking fees, etc.) and Carnival Cruise Lines (passenger fees,
income from restaurants, spas, casinos, shops, upper tier restaurants, etc.,
plus any negotiated cuts on land excursions, with preferred vendors, etc.).
Money also goes to North Charleston hotels (lower priced hotels host many
embarking passengers), transportation services such as taxis, pedicabs and
carriage operators, and the longshoremen.

So, what does Charleston get?   The expenses and impacts.

“When tourists come here and take a carriage ride, the horses don’t take
them to Citadel Mall. They take them through the historic district where people
spend a lot of money to keep up those houses that others want to see,” says
Bryan Harrison in the Charleston News Alternative.(3)   That statement is
confirmed by the 2011, Office of Tourism Analysis, College of Charleston survey
that says besides “food,” the following round out the top five tourist draws of
our city:  “History, Ambiance and Atmosphere, Attractions and Local
Hospitality.”(4)  And while most of the “attractions” of our city are “free” for
tourists, they are not “free” for the shopkeepers, residents, or religious,
civic and fraternal organizations that must spend boatloads of money to maintain
the historic buildings, homes, and gardens.  And that “cost” isn’t just
financial, the same people and organizations, many of which also must pay
increasing property taxes, must also face the ever-growing negative impacts of
cruise ship visits including unhealthy smoke and soot pollution, increased
pedestrian and traffic congestion, noise, litter and simple wear and tear–all
add up to a diminished quality of life.  Residents must also pay additional
taxes for first responders, civil servants and other city workers needed to
manage this tourism; no, those Charleston cops directing cruise traffic ain’t
workin’ for nothin’.

Robinson gives us a sobering cost/benefits comparison from Victoria,
Canada.  “Although economic benefits are generated by cruise line, passenger and
crew member expenditures, social and environmental costs result from marine
effluents, traffic congestion, traffic noise, road repairs, atmospheric
emissions and public subsidies.  Estimated economic benefits amount to at most
$24 million (Canadian dollars), while estimated costs are at least $28

Perhaps that’s why Bryan Harrison asks, “Should not the cruise industry be
regulated like the city regulates taxis, the carriage industry, tour buses,
pedicabs and other services that deal with tourism?  Should we think about what
would happen if the number of carriage tours or pedicabs were unlimited? Or if
the waste from the animals that pull the carriages should be allowed without

So what about regulation?  Nope, can’t have that, says Mayor Riley:  “The
port has done a splendid job. We can’t tell them what to do.”(6)

Another question. Why does the cruise terminal have to be downtown?  Many soot, noise,
traffic and congestion impacts on the peninsula would be reduced if the terminal
were moved to Columbus Street, North Charleston or Patriot’s Point.  But the
mayor and the SPA won’t discuss that either.

Tuesday’s Post and Courier pondered if it was Charleston’s
“friendliness” that just won it the top travel destination award, or “was it the
bounty of outstanding restaurants, top-notch hotels, rich history, quaint shops
and overall ambience that catapulted the Holy City to the top, displacing
perennial winner San Francisco, which held the title for 18 years?”(7)   What we
do know is that none of these attributes is all that important for “Fantasy”
passengers sailing off to the Caribbean.Tom Robinson concludes his Mercury
article, “Quality of life for residents in Ansonborough and commuters snarled
in cruise day traffic is an important issue, especially when compared to the
quality of life for a transient day-tourist spending four hours and $44 here.
But this story is about cruise economics. Does quality have a place when
money is a stake?

“Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of National Geographic’s Center for
Sustainable Destinations, believes the real benefit to tourists in the Holy City
is Charleston’s ‘sense of place’… its character, architecture and the deportment
of the historic district. He says, ‘The heavy human footprint of day tourists
can ruin the experience for stay-over visitors.

‘”Tourtellot is empathetic to what city fathers want. ‘I understand Joe Riley’s
impulse to want to fix up an ugly part of the city,’ he admits. ‘But if I were king
of the world, I’d put the home port facility up at Columbus Street, and shuttle people
who really want to visit Charleston into the historic district.'”


1)  The Elusive Economic Impact of Cruise Business – Tom
2)  Managing Cruise Ship Impacts; Guidelines for Current and Potential
Destination Communities
7)  Holy City displaces San Francisco as No. 1…  P&C


There is no doubt that the SPA, its expensive PR firm, and the mayor know how to frame an argument. But when it comes to the cruise ship tourism, does the frame fit?

“We are against jobs.” That’s the headline of the Charleston Mercury editorial that assails one prong of the SPA’s two-pronged (think “forked-tongue”) myth. The Mercury notes, “In his recent comments to Fox News, Bryon Miller, spokesman for the SPA, said that cruise ships bring jobs at a time when others are dissolving. Mr. Miller implies that those who want to reform the way cruise ships do business are going to reduce the number of jobs the cruise ships bring. No, sir, that is not true,” intoned the editorial. (2) But the facts haven’t slowed the SPA’s mythmaklng designed to fool the uninformed and gin up support from longshoremen’s union.

What’s the other half of that forked-tongue myth? “Their [“special interest” supporters of cruise ship regulation] goal is to cripple our port system to satisfy their anti-growth agenda. First it’s cruise ships, then cargo ships. Next it will be trucks and rails. They don’t seem to care that their agenda would irreparably damage economic development and kill jobs all across South Carolina.”(3) That statement, from SPA Chairman Bill Stern, is overreaching of the highest order. Oh, no, that wasn’t overreaching, his additional comment is overreaching: “It’s time for people of goodwill to stand against this narrow-minded band of radicals and their frivolous, irresponsible lawsuits.” But neither of these SPA protestations is true. No one wants to get rid of the cruise industry or eliminate a single job. No one is even commenting about cargo shipping in Charleston.

This is the big myth. Concerned citizens who want to regulate the size, number and frequency of cruise ship visits, or restrict the use of dangerous, foul bunker fuel air pollution while these ships are in port, also, according to this big myth, want to a) eliminate cruise ships and cruise jobs, and b) stop all port operations. This is nonsense. It’s bunk. It’s B.S. And if the mayor were playing for Charleston, he would be calling out the SPA for creating this codswallop. But he’s playing for the other team.

Which brings us to Hizzoner. This week, Charleston was placed on yet another “Watch List,” this time the 2012 World Monuments Fund “Watch List,” because of the rising number of cruise ships arriving in its harbor threatens “to undermine the very character that entices visitors to come to the town in the first place.”(4) The Post and Courier story adds that, “The listing calls global attention to Charleston’s cruise-ship debate — and how some feel the city considered the birthplace of the nation’s preservation movement is not doing enough to protect its future.”(5) Mayor Joseph Riley’s reaction was sadly predicable, “This group doesn’t know what they’re [sic] talking about.” Of course that would also mean that the National Trust for Historic Preservation doesn’t know either.

So let’s look at the statistic that both the mayor and SPA spokesman Bryan Miller repeat frequently, that only 3% of all tourists come via cruise ships. That figure assumes that there won’t be more cruises in the future, or that the ships won’t be larger in the future. This lovely status quo scenario is unlikely given that neither the SPA nor the mayor will codify [legally limit] either the size or number of cruise ship visits, and that’s why Charleston is now on two “Watch Lists.” But let’s assume that cruise ships visiting Charleston won’t be larger than 3,500 passengers. Consider this: 3,500 passengers disembarking at the same time (not counting the crew of at least 1,000) is the equivalent of 15 average-sized passenger jets unloading all at once, all in one place! Even the Charleston International Airport–with modern tourist facilities and full staff, a giant terminal and huge parking lots, away from the congestion and constraints of downtown–doesn’t have to deal with such an intense concentration of people. The other deliberately ignored corollary is that tourists coming by plane, train, or car come to Greater Charleston but then end up everywhere, from golf courses on Kiawah, to beaches on Sullivan’s Island, to downtown as well as James Island or Middleton Place.

Cruise ship tourists are unleashed, in concentrated throngs, all in one place and left to wash over downtown and an historic district that has neither the space nor the facilities to handle them.

So the logical thing would be to move the cruise terminal away from downtown, right? After all, no one would think of building a new airport downtown, and somehow, everyone flying into an airport gets to wherever they want to go. So you may be amazed that the SPA isn’t remotely interested in this solution. Read quotation from a July P&C article by David Slade: “In an acknowledgement that the plan is controversial and that opponents want few cruise ships or none at all operating from Union Pier, SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said repeatedly that without the new passenger terminal there would be no Union Pier redevelopment. It’s an all-or-nothing deal, the way the SPA presents the plan. Either keep Union Pier as it is now, or embrace cruise ships and the new terminal.”(6) The SPA is the very definition of “compromise.”

“In 50 years, will we be honoring those who guided our cruise ship decisions of today, or will we be scrambling to change the names of public facilities and pulling down portraits and statues,” concludes the Mercury editorial. On this point, neither the current SPA officials nor the mayor will be revered in 50 years; maybe they don’t care.


1) Preservation Society assessment of the Union Pier Terminal design

2) We are against Jobs – Mercury

3) Opponents of Cruise Tourism in Charleston sue Carnival – USA Today

4) World Monuments Fund – Charleston Historic District

5) Historic District on New Watch List – P&C

6) It’s Full Speed Ahead for the SPA Cruise Plan – P&C

What will it take to Create a Solution?

Why does the SPA ignore important cruise ship issues so apparent to everyone else?

The latest Charleston Mercury tackles the issues factually and directly in a manner the SPA and the mayor can’t seem to emulate: “As readers know, we are in favor of having cruise ships and support job growth on the waterfront. This newspaper seeks a sunny outlook for the port and its critical role in fueling our state’s economic engine. We also think that the port should take advantage of the wisdom in using the Columbus Street Terminal for hosting all cruise ship traffic; this is the central point of the controversy.” So why is the terminal location so important? The Mercury tells us:

“The Union Pier property is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it abuts a vibrant residential and commercial neighborhood that needs prime waterfront for expansion. This will improve the viewshed for nearby residents and visitors. The area around Morrison Drive and the Columbus Street Terminal can flourish together for the long term. Union Pier, as a host for cruise ships, will remain an eyesore and political albatross for the city of Charleston. We realize that the State Ports Authority’s plan for Union Pier is far better than what exists now, but it will not satisfy the citizens of Charleston or its key legislators.”(1) The Mercury understands what the mayor should but doesn’t. First, any limiting regulations on cruise ships, even were they forthcoming, could be changed, so moving potentially intense cruise traffic away from downtown offers the only long-term protection for our fragile historic districts. Second, this precious, underdeveloped 63-acre Union Pier tract presents the last opportunity to geographically expand downtown Charleston along the waterfront. Charleston’s unique moment to design and develop a small-street neighborhood with shops, restaurants, offices, civic buildings, residences and waterfront parks, all accessible to the public–not to mention the hundreds of permanent jobs it will create–can never, ever happen again!

Embarking cruise ship passengers on home-ported ships like the Carnival Fantasy must venture downtown, creating congestion and confusion, just to sail away and spend their money elsewhere! They’re beginning a week’s vacation, and these cruise ship passengers aren’t stupid. They’ve already paid for their food and berths, and they know that during their upcoming vacation week, they will have ample time to browse shops and foreign markets, gamble, go on excursions, buy exotic gifts, enjoy spa treatments, sunset cocktails… There’s no rational reason to spend money here before their vacation begins, and that’s why they spend so little. Then why bring cruise congestion and traffic downtown when the passengers and the city would be better off if embarking/disembarking tourists had easier access to major highways away from downtown? The common-sense reasons for using Columbus Street or Patriots Point(2) for a cruise terminal–near those highways–is undeniable.

But real issues aren’t the topics that SPA, it’s expensive PR agency or supporters want you to think about. Rather than talk about pollution, managing tourist impacts on historic districts, noise or congestion, we’re treated to this stuff: “The cruise ships themselves are quite awe-inspiring, and rather than detracting from the city they emphasize what the city was originally founded on, a natural harbor.”(3) “Awe-inspiring”? Has this guy seen the Fantasy? It doesn’t matter to him, because from where he lives, he can’t see any cruise ship, or Russia, from his house. Take another letter-to-the-editor from Mt. Pleasant, titled “Undermining Port.” It deliberately conflates cruise ship tourism with cargo shipping: “I am amazed, with our high unemployment, that there should be such animosity to cruise ships and their economic benefit…. “The executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority noted that Savannah is already a much greater port than Charleston. The Georgia ports support 295,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in state and local taxes.”(4) Conflate, combine, confuse–that’s the SPA’s strategy. Of course, the issue is NOT about Charleston’s history as a port, a “natural harbor,” or cargo shipping. We know that the SPA has hundreds of acres of underutilized port facilities, we know that Charleston is trying to get federal funds to dredge Charleston’s harbor, and we know that the port is trying to increase cargo shipping. Everyone favors the dredging, the expansion of port commerce, and more jobs. But cruise ship pollution and cruise passenger impacts on land are a totally separate issue. Thus we all should know that creating enforceable limits on cruise ship tourism–the same limits SPA itself proposed but won’t formalize–wouldn’t impact any other port activity. But dealing in facts is not a high priority for the SPA.

Why is the SPA’s master marketing plan to charge everyone asking for reasonable cruise ship tourism limits with attacking the port itself? Maybe the SPA believes that bamboozling the longshoremen and powerful cargo shippers is the only way to maintain the political cover it needs to confront and confuse the state legislature. But if the longshoremen and container ship operators ever figure out this cruise ship controversy isn’t about them, SPA officials holding their transparently flimsy assertions will be exposed. There’s every reason to limit cruise ship tourism–when all other tourism in Charleston is regulated. SPA officials know there should be limits. They know that cruise ships burn dangerous, low-grade bunker fuel in port that spews dangerous, unhealthy soot. They may know that any cruise terminal would be better were it located away from Union Pier. And they certainly know that they have failed to perform their mandated requirement to study other cruise terminal locations or “consider quality of life impacts of its operations.”(5) Yet, in spite of the facts, the SPA continues to conflate, combine, and confuse hoping the state legislature won’t catch on.

The Mercury asks its readers to look beyond the aesthetics and the environment to what’s economically best for the SPA and the City of Charleston: “The economic value of the Union Pier property speaks loudly; it yells on its merits; it screams best use; it oozes opportunity; and it cries for another path to solving the dispute. The central players need to find a way to sit down and agree that they will all benefit by seeking the best financial deal for the citizens of Charleston, the port and the city.” That “best financial deal” is the one that will also best preserve and protect the historic fabric of the city–the main engine for tourism which, in turn, is the main driver of our economy. But will the SPA sit down and help create a solution?

Sen. Chip Campsen recently wrote, “Economic development and quality of life are not mutually exclusive. Properly balanced, they are synergistic.”


1) “Are Cruise Ship Solutions Close at Hand?” – Charleston Mercury
2) “Cruise Solution” letter to the editor – P&C
3) “Keep Cruises” letter to the editor – P&C
4) “Undermining Port” letter to the editor – P&C
5) “SPA Must Weigh Cruises Impacts on Quality of Life” – Sen. Chip Campsen

In My Dream

Good afternoon,

In my dream, I walked into the City Council meeting just as the mayor began to speak. “This great city was built on achieving a balance between business, industry, and tourism and historic preservation, the enhancement of our unique neighborhoods, and protecting Charleston’s famous quality-of-life for its citizens. I have proven to you that this can be done. It requires thoughtful, visionary planning and thoughtful regulation to encourage or discourage development, depending on where it is proposed, to balance future prosperity and protect our quality of life. Prosperity and livability are not mutually exclusive; they go hand-in-hand. Ladies and gentlemen, Charleston has a breathtaking opportunity, an opportunity that no other city either has or will ever have again! It is an opportunity so big, so immense, so life-changing for the future of Charleston, that we must make it happen for us, for our children, for the future of Charleston so that her greatest days will be the future, surpassing Charleston’s most glorious past.

Sensing the crowd’s growing excitement, the mayor continued, “At the edge of our historic downtown is a 65-acre undeveloped parcel of pristine waterfront land! It’s now a derelict wasteland, wire fences, broken asphalt, rotting structures. But imagine it’s value! No other great city anywhere has such a large, undeveloped tract so close to the the heart of the city–and this is waterfront land! Boston was the last great city to have such an opportunity–and they took it. Boston transformed acres of ‘low-rent warehouses, rotting wharves, and windswept parking lots’ along its waterfront into an explosive, exciting, innovative, invigorating expansion of downtown. It began fifteen years ago there, when a forest of cranes filled the skyline at the harbors edge, and the bustling of construction workers was a testament to this opportunity that has completely revitalized Boston. Media and financial companies, law firms, advertising agencies, artists and craftspeople all moved into this new living-working neighborhood that then attracted stores and local shops, restaurants, bistros, residences and hotels. The job growth has been immense, the tax revenues skyrocketed — Bostonians seized their opportunity, and the resulting financial and job growth has been estimated in the billions, not millions!(1) And they’re not done!” The crowd was mesmerized. “We must do the same here! Privately develop all of Union Pier as Boston developed Fan Pier. That would generate more new jobs than we’ve ever created in Charleston. We will build our own new city, expand our downtown, enrich Charleston with an unrivaled tapestry of development, parks and public places just steps from historic downtown. And we could do what Boston did, locate the cruise terminal at the far edge of the city, at the Columbus Street Terminal, which will allow cruise travelers easy on/off access to major roads, avoiding congestion and confusion, when they arrive here or leave to visit plantations, the Patriot’s Point memorial, come downtown or see other Lowcountry attractions. Plus, the much unused and less valuable Columbus Street Terminal, twice the size of Union Pier, will provide acres of parking without blocking or compromising downtown waterfront land. This puts the right type of development in the right place–that’s how you achieve a balance in a great small city like Charleston. It’s a win-win-win. The workers win who develop the entire Union Pier property over the years as well as those who stay and run the many offices, shops, restaurants, hotels and live in the residences, jobs that are now nonexistent. The cruise operators and longshoremen that move to the unused portion of Columbus Street win because jobs will not only be maintained but likely expanded at this larger property. And your City wins by expanding its tax base, generating new revenues, critical in these hard times with increasing expenses and so much to do. The derelict Union Pier is our city’s ‘last frontier’! This is our great opportunity; let’s seize the moment.”

But the mayor didn’t say any of that. Instead, it turns out, he castigated proponents of regulations on cruise ships that would be similar to regulations on every other tourist industry. Mayor Riley previously, infamously portrayed proponents of balance and regulation as “a tiny, radical fringe.” The Post and Courier responded to the mayor, calling that remark “a novel characterization of those, including many downtown residents, who have the temerity to disagree with his position on the matter. Actually, they are people who live and work on the peninsula and who are concerned that the balance between the city’s tourism economy and residential livability is tipping out of kilter.”(2) But his week, the mayor outdid himself with another broadside, “The most distasteful thing about this is the class thing. That’s the elephant in the room—like people who take cruises on cruise ships aren’t good enough.” The P&C responded to that, too: “…if there is anything elephantine in this issue, it’s the cruise ships themselves. There is an apprehension that without legal limits that there will come a time when the cruise ships calling on Charleston will be bigger and there will be more of them. Certainly the city of Charleston hasn’t demonstrated any reluctance to regulate other areas of the tourism industry.”

There’s a damn good reason for “an apprehension.” The real elephantine problem is highlighted in USA Today’s travel section, “Cruise ships are getting bigger — with more passengers on board than ever. Royal Caribbean’s 9-month-old Allure of the Seas can carry more than 6,000 people — nearly twice as many as the largest ships a decade ago.”(3) Ships, like planes, are getting bigger and bigger, and the soon-to-be widened Panama Canal will stimulate the construction of far larger ships in the years to come. And even if all these cruise passengers disembarked wearing tuxedos and evening gowns, the impact, congestion, confusion, and stress on limited facilities (bathrooms, etc.) in Charleston’s small, constricted downtown and residential areas would degrade the Charleston experience for residents and visitors alike. Tourists coming here are not asking to be taken to the Citadel Mall; it’s downtown and the historic districts that tourists come to see, and it’s that destination that needs to be protected from unbridled tourism. The real Mayor Riley, if he’s still there somewhere, surely realizes the damage unrestrained tourism will bring, yet he has decided to ignore reality.

The Charleston News Alternative attacks “The Class Thing” head-on. “Who, and when, did any of the opponents of unregulated cruise ship activity, use ‘a class thing’ as an argument or a reason to impose standards? Does anyone have knowledge of this as an argument used by any of the environmental groups or neighborhood associations?” The News Alternative observes, “When the [Historic Charleston] Foundation held a forum to discuss the issue, signs reading “Jobs Not Snobs” appeared, although nothing advocated by any group appears to hurt jobs in any way. When a group of certain businessmen organized to support unregulated cruise ships, used their initial rally, not just to offer support, but to demean those for controls.” The commentary continues, “It appears that the origins of the claim being vague, continued rebroadcasting of them have come from those who seek to impose unregulated cruise ships on the city. That includes the mayor. It also includes SPA which has plenty of money to spend on public relations including negative ones,” adding, “Rather than discussing the issues, one side has taken to name calling and slurs. Most people would find this ‘distasteful.'”

The Charleston News Alternative concludes, “The mayor of what has been called ‘America’s Friendliest City’ could take the lead in restoring civility rather than pillorying its citizens. Meanwhile, the public has every reason to believe that more than promised 3,500-passenger or larger ships will be heading towards Charleston.” Publisher Bryan Harrison’s commentary is worth reading.(link 4 below)

Thirty years from now, today’s unparalleled chance to fully develop Union Pier and move the cruise terminal elsewhere will have been seen as Charleston’s greatest opportunity for future prosperity. Yet there’s little time remaining before the mayor and the SPA squander that chance forever.


Credit: Publius & Allen 2001

1) Boston Waterfront – Boston Globe, 1998

2) The Council Cruises Off Course – P&C editorial

3) How to Pick the Perfect Cruise – USA Today Travel

4) The “Class Thing” and more ships to come – Charleston News Alternative