Charleston mayor outlines gains over past 12 months

By Ashley Barker
Published Feb. 3, 2014

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city’s economy is surging and called a cruise ship lawsuit “almost laughable” during his State of the City address.

Riley cited Benefitfocus debuting on the stock exchange and announcing its $60 million campus expansion as successes for the city, along with Milken Institute ranking Charleston the 11th best-performing economy in the country.

“The West Coast has Silicon Valley. Without any doubt, the Charleston region has Silicon Harbor, and this was further reinforced by Google’s announcement of another $600 million investment in the Berkeley County Data Center,” Riley said during the televised annual address on Thursday. It was delayed by two days because of icy weather conditions.

Riley said 2013 was a record year for the number of new apartments. He said 912 apartments and 829 new homes were built in the city, totaling $700 million. He also noted the construction of Elan Midtown, the peninsula’s first new apartment community in 50 years.

Riley called the state Supreme Court lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines “almost laughable,” but said he didn’t mean that in a light way.

“The only reason for the lawsuit was a hope that it would scare the cruise ships away. And it did not,” he said. “We look forward to being able to begin the construction of a new cruise terminal and then allow for the careful planning and redevelopment of the southern part of Union Pier, which now has rusty and ugly warehouse buildings and will be transformed into a beautiful part of this city, giving our citizens more access to our harbor.”

He said the harbor deepening project, which will make the harbor 50 feet or deeper, will be essential for the “continued growth and development of our port and the business activity in our region and state.”

Riley highlighted several construction projects around the city including Colonial Lake’s $5 million restoration, the Gaillard Performance Hall’s nearly $150 million reconstruction and several newly renovated Charleston County School District facilities.

“The school district has earned historic preservation awards and has earned the appreciation and thanks of the schoolchildren and their families, who will benefit from these newly built schools,” he said. “These schools remind us that there are still schools in our community that need renovation and new schools built to replace classroom trailers.”

He said he believes the one-cent sales tax should be extended for school construction, because economic growth is not one-sided.

“We must have world-class education for our children, and that demands 21st century world-class schools,” he said.

With all its popularity, Charleston’s tourism management plan is due for a fresh look, according to the mayor. He created the Tourism Management Plan Advisory Committee to update how the city will manage its tourism industry so it will continue to be included on favorite city lists worldwide.

Riley also spoke about violent crime being down by 17% in the city last year and serious crime declining by more than 70% in the past seven years.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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