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City Council, May 12

Tourist Management Plan adopted
But without the Planning Commission’s recommendations
Warwick Jones

It was a long meeting. We expected it would be because of the public hearing on the Tourist Management Plan. But a proposed change in the City’s procurement policy also generated substantial discussion and citizen comment.

There was probably little doubt that citizens and Council would applaud the Tourism Management Plan. The impact of tourism on the City was concerning many citizens and the 27 member committee was tasked to address problems and potential solutions. The report is comprehensive and detailed. It deserved the praise that it inspired on Council even though some Council members had reservations about certain items. And although there was no division on Council with the ultimate vote, there was certainly division amongst members of the public and members of the committee as to endorsing the recommendations of the Planning Commission. To see the full Plan, press here

As reported already in the media, the Planning Commission at a hearing a month or so ago approved the report but added a recommendation to “consider future review of alternative locations for the proposed cruise ship terminal and to consider shore power for cruise ships at the terminal”. This insertion brought the whole cruise ship issue into play and it was this issue that was the focus at last night’s meeting. Mayor Riley asked Council to reject this recommendation. It did, with only Council member Seekings favoring its inclusion but yielding in the final vote.

The Executive Director of the State Ports Authority, Mr. Jim Newsome gave a presentation before the public hearing. Much of what he said had been said before. But it continued to be very relevant to the issue. Significantly, he noted the importance of the Columbus Street terminal. It was the terminal for exporting BMWs, produced in upstate South Carolina. It would be the terminal for the export of Volvo’s, soon to be built in a new plant in Berkeley County. This business was too important to the SPA and the state to be jeopardized by the insertion of cruise terminal. Mr. Newsome also stated that shore side power was yesterday’s technology. The improvement in marine engines, the installation of scrubbers and the burning of low sulfur fuel will reduce pollution to low levels making shore power unnecessary. He added that the SPA had added an air monitoring system on Union Pier, the results of which would be posted on the Authority’s web site. Results to date showed no significant air quality difference when cruise ships were in the terminal.

Mayor Riley was more heated on the subject of moving the cruise terminal to Columbus Street. It was the most valuable piece of real estate the State, vital to the wellbeing of BMW and now Volvo. It was “ridiculous” to consider putting a cruise terminal there and jeopardising these activities, so vital now and even more vital in the future with a new Volvo plant. To consider putting the terminal there would be a “colossal waste of time”. Echoing Mr. Newsome, Union Pier was the only location for the cruise terminal, he said.

Despite the comments of Mr. Newsome, many speakers in the public hearing endorsed the recommendations of the Planning Commission. They included representatives of the Preservation Society, the National Trust, and some Peninsula neighborhood associations. And perhaps in common with supporters of the SPA, their arguments were similar to those presented to Council in other hearings.

We were one of the few speakers at the hearing in favor of rejecting the PC’s recommendations. We noted that according to the Army Corp of Engineers, no sites remained in Charleston Harbor suitable for development of a terminal. What the SPA has, is all it will ever have in Charleston. Business is growing and likely to continue so. It is not in a position to convert terminals such as that at Columbus Street into a cruise terminal and simply shift volume to elsewhere. We also wondered out loud why cruise ships and the SPA were vilified and second guessed. If the critics of the SPA thought it was dissembling, what did they think was its motive? It was a rhetorical question of course as we think it is not dissembling. It is acting responsibly.

The only other issue in the Tourism Management report was over Horse Carriages. Council member Mitchell said he was unhappy with the possible further restriction on horse carriages. Because of this threat, and the possible relocation of the cruise terminal to Columbus Street, he would not support the Plan. He subsequently retreated, and endorsed the plan in the final vote. The motion made by Council member Moody to approve the plan included the caveat that staff could not implement any part of it. All matters relating to it must first be approved by Council.
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We were surprised at the amount of discussion and comment on the proposed change in the City’s Procurement Policy. Staff had been working on it for nearly a year at the behest of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, a group that includes a number of church groups. The Ministry sought to help those seeking employment. It asked that the City to adopt a percentage (25%) of all entry level jobs on construction projects to go those unemployed for some time.

The City thought it was an interesting idea but maybe too extreme. In the proposal before Council last night, the City would ask bidders on City projects to make a good faith goal to employ folk who had been unemployed for 3 months or more. The request would be made on construction projects over $3 million, and $2500 for landscape jobs. The Mayor noted that the goal was not obligatory.

There was certainly sympathy for the proposal amongst Council members and some asked why a $3 million threshold. Why not something lower? Because it was a new policy and the City wanted to avoid any adverse impact, the Mayor responded.

Some Council members were not happy that the construction industry had not been consulted on the proposed change. They suggested that a decision on implementation be deferred so industry views could be obtained. Council member Waring sought deferral to work out some reward for firms that were working in Enterprise Zones and already were hiring from the ranks of the unemployed.

Over the Mayor’s protests, the issue was deferred in a 7 to 4 vote.

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