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SPA’s Newsome threatens Union Terminal Nuclear Option

Lee Walton

SPA CEO Jim Newsome’s latest dual roles as “spoiled brat” and “neighborhood bully” over the future fate of the Authority’s Union Terminal are both unflattering and uncharacteristic of one who reportedly heads of one of South Carolina’s most important economic engines. Newsome’s extremely heavy-handed attitude expressed in Saturday’s Palter and Chatter article, “SPA vows to avoid fight over cruise ship project”, leaves little doubt that before the Authority will tolerate protracted delays or suffer environmental activists who would “…hold up this grand plan…to take cargo out of the historic district - the Ports Authority will revert to its other option of updating the less desirable site it uses now.” Apparently, if Newsome can’t play by his rules, he’ll take his ball and go home.

Given increasing public criticism and distrust of the Authority’s proposed cruise terminal relocation coupled with only “smoke and mirrors” surrounding the SPA’s vastly larger Union Terminal redevelopment plan, it’s an opportune time to pause and ask just what is the business of the Authority and who should be the beneficiaries of its efforts.

What SPA mission is in the best interest of the entire State’s economy? Is the ability to ship worldwide and receive cargo from around the globe through multiple terminals in the Port of Charleston secondary to the limited benefits to be derived from an increased cruise ship tourist market in Charleston? Is increased economic activity and employment statewide to be secondary to increased tourist related redevelopment at the east end of the City Marked? Why would the SPA readily exchange its closest deep draft cargo terminal to the Charleston Sea Buoy for two 3,500-passenger cruise ships per week, more hotels, restaurants and trinket shops? How many long term state-wide jobs would be created and/or preserved by upgrading the Union Terminal as a world-class ports facility in lieu of its proposed redevelopment into another “Port Everglades” cruise ship tourist hub to benefit only Charleston’s arguably already overextended tourism industry?

Did the State Legislature intend that the SPA be in the same deal-estate development bed with the rest of the Riley Administration’s development cronies at the expense of its primary objective? Why has the business plan of the Port of Savannah proven far superior in recent years to that espoused by the SPA Board? Why did the Authority sell its Port Royal Terminal and, for all intent and purpose, let the Port of Georgetown’s shipping channel become so silted that even pleasure craft often run aground? The answers to these important questions are too far-reaching and too economically important to the state to allow a heavy-handed bully to intimidate would be critics or otherwise silence justifiable criticism.

Perhaps Sunday’s Palter and Chatter lead editorial, “Market project is a winner”, held an all too obvious clue to the driving force behind the fate of Union Terminal. As with the ongoing restoration and eastward extension of the City Market “…when completed, it should provide an important link to shopping on King Street, just a block away.” Follow the money; in Charleston, it leads to Riley’s office in City Hall every time.

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