By Mark A. Leon
Just over a year later, we look back at a promise. During the Mayoral campaign that took two voting days to decide, Mayor John Tecklenburg stood behind the promise of making Charleston “livable” again. It was a bold statement with much room for interpretation.
Now, we look to today and the future, and it has become clear that “livability” is not about the citizens that have chosen to live their days here in Charleston, but the tourists and the developers that are reaping the rewards of this once great city.
The politicians, media and tourism boards have boasted the year over year increases in tourism and high hotel occupancy rates. What they haven’t spoken to is the flat GDP of just over 2%. With double figure increases in tourism traffic and low economic growth, the indicator is that local residents are not coming to Historic Charleston as frequently as they once did.
This is also evident in the closing of local Charleston foundations including Morris Sokol, Hughes Lumber and Bob Ellis Shoes (stores that would be frequented by locals, not tourists).
In 2009, I would work from my downtown apartment on Morris Street for miles and take in esthetic beauty in all directions. There were pockets of crowds and carriages all around, but that was part of the ambiance of this city. What was not prevalent were orange cones, deep roadway damage, cranes and endless high rise construction in every major part of the city. From Joe Riley Stadium, to MUSC, East Bay, King Street, Meeting Street and Broad Street. This city is being attacked from all directions with the simple goal: Make a few major developers and investors very wealthy.
Simply put, we are no longer in control of our city.
All the perks of being a local have been compromised and here is how we are suffering:
- Parking garage rates have increased
- Most residential parking is now only 1 hour for non-residents 24 hours a day
- Restaurant tax is 10.5% for food / 15% for alcohol
- The East Side lost its only means of groceries
Several weeks ago, a group of business owners met to finance free bus service for residents of the East Side to go to Mount Pleasant and Northern Charleston for groceries because their BiLo (Former Piggly Wiggly) closed-down. Instead of celebrating this generous act, why aren’t we looking at why it wasn’t kept open in the first place.
The Westside Neighborhood has trees uprooted from the sidewalk that are being ignored from the last devastating storm.
- A 1.2 billion-dollar development is going up on Upper Meeting
- A new hotel is in development to compliment the newly launched hotel on Upper King
- A new housing development is being built on Upper Meeting and Huger Street
- Lockwood is setting the foundation for a new development
- A new shopping and dining complex is under construction across from Joe Riley Stadium
- Sergeant Jasper could see new community rise if all provisions are met.
- Construction continues on the new MUSC Children’s Hospital
- Approvals are being finalized for a new bank building on the corner of Calhoun and Meeting
- King Street is closed off from the Crosstown for the next two years
- Infrastructure and building construction on the College of Charleston campus
Several days ago, we joked that Charleston was no longer the “Holy City” but the “Crane City”. Humor aside, there is a fear brewing in Charleston and we are on the sidelines without a means of getting in the game.
We have heard many speak on the social forums that they want the Northerners to stop moving here, yet Charleston is starting to look more like New York or Cleveland than Savannah or Beaufort.
As citizens of Charleston, we will not see our skyline or traffic alleviation from construction projects until 2020 or beyond. Is that what we signed up for when we were promised “livability”?
We have a voice Charleston. Maybe, it is time we start looking for answers. We have local officials whom you have voted in to speak on our behalf. Utilize them.