By Mark A. Leon
In a destination city environment, the municipality walks a fine line between catering to the tourists and the local community. It is a challenge to balance the needs of one without neglecting the other. A number of factors play into the decisions around how each group is treated. Often times, perception plays a part in people’s reactions to some decisions that may affect one group adversely. We have looked at perception and reality and determined that is there a strong sentiment that local residents are losing the battle to tourism.
The separation point of perception and reality is data. Data will always provide substantiated evidence.
We have looked at some data points, daily observation and chatter to compile a list of the reasons we feel the city is choosing tourism over resident livability.
- Multi-million dollar investment firms from out of state and locally are monopolizing on an opportunity to reduce the historic footprint and create a new hospitality center focused on boutique hotels, luxury stay experiences and high end shopping and dining. These investments range from small to large, including a group of New York investors that purchased the building housing Blind Tiger on Broad Street and the new $100M complex that is being planned for Spring and King. In between, we are showered by the Dewberry, Spectator, Grand Bohemian, Zero George, Hyatt, Holiday Inn Suites and Hotel Bennett that are changing the face of historic Charleston. When you have a hotel that can charge $600 a night while you still have issues around waste management and homelessness, it is time to re-think strategy.
- Generation old local business are being forced out or into retirement due to urban pressures and rising rents. 2016 saw the end of Hughes Lumber, Bob Ellis Shoes, King Street Grille and Morris Sokol. Those four foundations closing their doors speak volumes. Even this past week, we heard that Fish will be closing on Upper King Street.
- Limited improvements in roadway infrastructure. A recent article in the Post and Courier indicated that Charleston residents are paying $1850 annually on average for car repairs due to the poor road systems as a result of the increased traffic in the surrounding counties. In the cross town we added an aesthetically pleasing divider, yet there are cones, cranes and construction throughout the entire span with some projects taking us through 2020 and beyond.
- Cost of dining and entertainment have forced many locals to reduce the amount of leisure activity. With a 10.5% dining food tax and 15% alcohol and increased base prices across the board, the dining experience is shifting from a locals experience to a tourist luxury.
- Increases in the price of parking garages and more opportunistic valet options.
- Corporate transition of downtown Charleston – Hyatt, Vans, Forever 21, West Elm, 3 Starbucks on King Street alone (8 total downtown), Panera, Walgreens, Carolina Ale House, Chipotle, Five Guys Burgers, Chik-fil-a, Subway, Williams-Sonoma, Urban Outfitters and Earthbound. The local names and generational families businesses are losing out to corporate brands.
- Removing the only neighborhood grocery store in the Northern central part of the peninsula where most of the East Side would shop and masking the concern by funding short term busing options for the residents to get groceries out of the city limits.
- A poorly managed parking meter system and mass transit service. There are a few groups that are working hard to change the culture and promote a change in thinking around mass transit, but that isn’t enough. When cities like Beaufort and Asheville have credit card meters and apps where you can pay, we are lagging far behind.
- No monthly or annual subsidized parking for employees who work in downtown Charleston.
- Limited enforcement of jaywalking laws and thus increasing risk of injury. Limited proposals and implementations around increased biking options for residents.
These are a few of the major reasons, the emphasis is on the tourist and local residents are faced with daily challenges that will continue to mount over the upcoming years.