By Mark A. Leon
2016 has been a year that has tested our will and strength. No words are more true than they lyrics to Don McLean’s immortal classic ‘American Pie’: “Can Music Save Your Mortal Soul”, “a generation lost in space” and “My hands were clenched in fists of rage; no angel born in hell could break that Satan spell.” Social media and the immediacy of news has brought our world closer together and allowed us to share in the common experience of life. From Charleston to the World, we have absorbed so much in this monumental year.
As we close 2016, Charleston, SC is not short of memorable stories and moments. Let us look back on the year that saw the wrath of Hurricane Matthew, redemption for the resting souls of Emanuel AME, a summer’s heat that never seemed to want to end, a generation of businesses saying goodbye and a landscape of Charleston that will forever be changed.
In the last calendar year census release, we learned that South Carolina is the 10th fastest growing state in the union with just over 66,000 new residents (July 1, 2015 – July 1, 2016). Annualized out, that is nearly a 35% increase in the entire state population in just one decade with a projected growth of 660,000. That is a fact that is concerning to a number of residents with the Charleston area leading the expansion surge.
Hurricane Matthew tested our preparation strategy and we passed with flying colors. Our area was more fortunate than most in the Carolinas, but the sense of community, government resources and calm rational thinking got us through the nature disaster without a single fatality.
Mayor Tecklenburg has one year under his belt. With his morning chats, jazzy music and visibility around town, he has demonstrated that he has the capability of filling the shoes of a political giant, Mayor Joseph Riley.
Perhaps, one of the most challenging changes for our community is the commercialization of the peninsula. With the additions of Panera on Calhoun, our ninth Starbucks on Upper King and the Hyatt towering above, the traditional family owned culture is shifting away and paving a new landscape for Charleston. The corner of Calhoun and King looks more like a major metro than a unique historic Southern town with Walgreens, Panera, Carolina Ale House, Chipotle, Moe’s Southwestern, Five Guys Burgers and Starbucks showering us with corporate dominance. (Is this the End of the Holy City?)
This year we said goodbye to some old friends including Tony The Peanut Man, Lilian D. Johnson, Owner of Duke’s BBQ, and the College of Charleston lost three members of its family: Norman Arnold, Alison Piepmeier and Consuela Francis. Long time South Carolina State Senator John Drummond left us and The Alley and Charleston were saddened by the tragic loss of 24-year-old Whitney Jordan.
Several foundations closed their doors for the final time including Hughes Lumber, Morris Sokol Furniture and Bob Ellis Shoes. Generations of locals have shared fond memories of a different downtown Charleston where generations of business owners treated you like family.
Once again Conde Nast Traveler put Charleston in the limelight and The Spectator Hotel got national prominence and top honors.
Drones no longer captured a skyline of church steeples. That majestic skyline was dominated in 2016 by cranes. Street and infrastructure construction was a mainstay from Spring to The Battery, President Street to East Bay. There wasn’t a roadway on the peninsula that wasn’t affected this year.
It was a rise of the digital billboards and a record of highway fatalities in South Carolina with nearly 1000 as we near the end of the calendar year.
Sixteen months after the moment that changed our lives forever, a jury gave a city and a congregation redemption. Now, the nine souls of the Emanuel AME family can finally rest.
The summer saw countless days over 90 leaving many locals trapped indoors with air conditioner units never having a moment to stop and catch their breath.
The fires of Western Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia made their way to the coast giving us a few auspicious mornings of misty smoke in the air.
Some other notables in 2016:
- Shem Creek got a parking garage.
- Downtown Parking garages raised rates.
- Most residential parking no longer offered free parking after 6:00 PM or 8:00 PM.
- The county voted a 0.5% sales tax increase – Now Charleston County will have 9% sales tax, 10.5% restaurant food tax and 15% restaurant alcohol tax.
- Mount Pleasant is seeking a cruise ship port on their side of the Harbor.
- Bike Lanes have been tested, a bike sharing program instated and more financial resources going into CARTA as the city looks for ways to control the traffic issues with the growing population.
- Folly Beach bans plastics and has the environmentalists and conservationists cheering.
- Colonial Lake gets a facelift.
- The Citadel Football Team brought excitement to the city with a record year including 10 straight wins to start the season.
- Charleston Angels Partners First Annual Start Up Competition showed that technology has a bright future in Charleston.
- Gronkowski and DiCaprio stopped by for a visit.
- The film industry found Charleston to be a shining star including a new Netflix film, Stephen King mini-series and a John Laurens docu-drama.
- Rent in downtown Charleston has hit record rates with Charleston listed as one of the top US cities for rent percentage increases.
- Joe Riley Stadium will soon have a retail and dining neighbor, Upper Meeting Street is creating its own high end consumer experience and residents of the East Side must now take a bus to get basic groceries.
2016 was quite a year for us. Happy New Year Charleston. We wish you all a healthy and safe 2017.