The 1,000-year storm may be over, but Charleston is still feeling its impact. We talked to area event organizers and masters of the Lowcountry tourism trade to get an idea of how much revenue Aquageddon cost them. Numbers aside, numerous organizations suffered serious heartbreak from a weekend of canceled events. Read on to see how historic floodwaters affected Charleston financially and emotionally.
The storm that began on Oct. 2 affected pretty much every organization that had scheduled events.
Charleston's second annual Hogs for a Cause, a New Orleans-based charity barbecue competition that raises money for kids with pediatric cancer, was scheduled for Sat. Oct. 3 at the Grove at Patriot's Point, promising big-name music acts like Lucero and Dr. Dog, before it was canceled the night before due to rain and flooding. Becker Hall, the organization's founder, says that Hogs "won't know anything about numbers for a long time."
Hogs had to pay the five bands up-front, so the economic impact of that alone could be extremely detrimental. Despite the huge loss of revenue, Hall says, "I can definitely say that the cancellation won't stop South Carolina families from getting the grants they need."
Despite this silver lining, the cancellation took a toll on Hogs' organizers. "It's very emotional, very tough," says Hall. "We want to come back." He notes, "If the numbers add up, then we'll get back to Charleston."
The MOJA festival had to cancel all of their final weekend events, including a concert at The Joe and a finale celebration at Hampton Park. The festival was already suffering from some hiccups, with its headliner Patti Austin canceling the night before she was set to perform at Jazz Under the Stars on Sat. Sept. 26 — an event with ticket prices that ranged from $36-$510. While some MOJA events, like Elder Carlie Towne's play Gullah/Geechee Conversation Part 2: Dis Ya Da Fruit Ob Da Spirit Restaurant, were rescheduled, most were simply canceled. MOJA is in the process of issuing refunds to ticket holders.
Thanks Joe!, an enthusiastic celebration of Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., was postponed until Sun. Oct. 25. Daniel Brock of Rawle Murdy PR says that the original event, a free all-day party of music, food, and games at Brittlebank Park, followed by a $5 concert and fireworks at The Joe, was funded entirely by private citizens. "It was an ad-hoc group of Joe Riley supporters," he says, adding that because of the private donors, the event will probably not release the economic impact of the cancellation to the public. The rescheduled event is set for the same place and times with a slight change in the entertainment lineup.
Other events with heavy attendance projections — like the IOP Connector Run and MUSC Health stadium's Oktoberfest — were also canceled with no plans for rescheduling.
Plenty of downtown residents hopped on paddleboards and in kayaks on Sat. Oct. 2, taking in a little recreation, checking on neighbors, and enjoying countless Instagram posts. Actual water sports outfitters, though, didn't fare so well during the storm. Kathie Livingston, owner of Nature Adventures Outfitters in Mt. Pleasant, says that after a preliminary economic assessment the company lost at least $6,000 in canceled tours. She says that the company spent an additional $1,500 on labor costs to move boats to a safer location. The company has paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and a 40 ft. pontoon boat that they rent out for tours both on Shem Creek and in other locations like Awendaw Creek and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
Financially, the storm couldn't have come at a worse time. Livingston says that October is a very popular time for tours. "It's that little bit of time to pad your bank account," she says, noting that while the company operates year-round, the winter months can be slow. Although Nature Adventures is still operating out of Shem Creek, they've been carefully monitoring water quality, with fecal run-off (yeah) a serious health concern for paddlers traveling close to urban areas. Trips in and around Francis Marion National Forest, where Natuve Adventures is one of the biggest outdoor outfitters, are also an issue, with road washouts and massive flooding causing a lot of damage. "We will recover," says Livingston, "but this was a major event."
Drew Yochum, Charleston Harbor Tours' director of sales and marketing, says that the company managed to take two tours out during Friday's downpour, but that the rest of the weekend's tours were canceled. "This is one of our busiest times charter wise," he says, adding that most people who take harbor tours are, naturally, tourists. "We lost out a lot on the weekend."
While some people have rescheduled, the company lost a number of reservations made by out-of-towners visiting during the storm. Yochum says the flooding has spooked tourists planning on coming down later this month, with several people calling and asking if the boats are safe for traveling. Yochum assures us that no boats were damaged in the rain or flooding.
Shem Creek-based Palmetto Breeze, part of Aqua Safaris' fleet, also stayed docked during the storm. "It's definitely gonna be a hit," says Carole Borden, co-owner and -operator of Aqua Safaris. She says that the weekend was pretty full of reservations, and now that the company is near the end of their season, she doubts that they can make up the money they lost.
According to Sarah Reynolds, Charleston County Parks publicity coordinator, watching the weather isn't really anything new for park employees — they depend on blue skies and sunshine to attract visitors. Reynolds says, "Parks plan for bad weather conditions with event insurance and other efforts to minimize revenue loss." Old Towne Creek County Park's Sept. 30 Wine Down Wednesday and Oct. 6 Brewsday Tuesday were rescheduled. Wannamaker County Park's Sun. Oct. 4 Latin American festival, though, was not rescheduled, and Reynolds projects that the event could have net $15,000. The weather's effect wasn't limited to one weekend. Sat. Oct. 11's Mullet Hall Equestrian half marathon and 5K were rescheduled for Sun. Oct. 25. due to soggy trail conditions.
Rockin' the River, a riverside concert that debuted this year at North Charleston's Riverfront Park, had to cancel its Thurs. Oct. 1 show.
"Unfortunately we did a five-concert series," says North Charleston director of tourism Amy Heath. Three of the planned concerts, including one that lasted for an hour before being shut down, were canceled due to weather. Heath says that for each show the city spent about $1,000 on marketing and $3,000 on the actual concert (which includes bands, food and drink vendors, and a kids' zone). That's $12,000 washed away because of well, rain.
Despite three canceled shows, Heath says that the city is ready to re-vamp the program and bring it back next year. "We know we have a good thing," she says, "People are begging: please don't make us go over the bridge."
Next year's Rockin' the River series is scheduled to start the Thursday after the Fourth of July and run for six consecutive weeks. As far as weather-related preparations, Heath says she's crossing her fingers.