Charleston's top stories in 2011 

Top stories in coming year include Boeing, bikes, the Civil War, North Chuck rail, and Nikki Haley

The top stories of 2010 were so last year, literally. Haiti, mid-term elections, oil spills, healthcare reform ... hell, even last month's winter weather shellacking will be left to the history books. Besides, there's too much in front of us in 2011 to revisit those sleepy stories of just yesteryear. Here are our picks for the stories to watch in 2011. And no, the prospect of Alvin Greene's presidential campaign isn't among them.

Gov. Haley: Year One

"I'm impatient by nature, so I want everything accomplished yesterday," Gov.-elect Nikki Haley recently told The Greenville News.

But, if she wants any legislative reform in her first year, she'll only have a five-month window while the General Assembly is in session. Early victories will likely include transparency measures she championed as a House member and on the campaign trail in 2010 — issues like on-the-record voting in the Statehouse.

Anything else is going to require cooperation with legislative leaders, says Jeri Cabot, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.

"She's got to pull away from that bullying thing," Cabot says, referring to threats Haley proudly made when lobbying for transparency legislation as a House member.

Healthcare is one issue Haley could use to distinguish herself. The governor elect made news by asking the president if South Carolina could opt out of federal healthcare reform, and she's certain to insert herself in a legal fight on the issue, but Cabot sees a larger opportunity for Haley to seek out successful programs from other states and coordinate with the legislature and medical professionals in South Carolina.

"She has an opportunity to show she can hammer out solutions," Cabot says.

Haley will have to get to real issues like restructuring benefits, Cabot says, as opposed to simply consolidating agencies and firing bureaucrats.

"If that's all she does, she's nothing but rhetoric," she says.

Rolling Along

Stand at any corner of St. Philip Street during the school year and you're likely to see more bikes than cars. Nestled between the busy routes along King and Coming streets, traffic on the neighborhood route has been perfect for the peninsula's cycling commuters. It's just one indication of the increased use of bikes as transportation.

Last year, the City of Charleston revamped bike laws downtown, essentially keeping cyclists off the sidewalks and requiring that they obey stop signs and traffic lights. Nonprofit groups have also worked with the city to build community support for bike access and to educate cyclists and motorists about sharing the road, particularly after the tragic death last summer of cycling enthusiast Edwin Gardner. That work behind the scenes is going to be evident in physical changes in 2011.

"We're where we need to be in the thought process, but not the infrastructure," says City Councilman Mike Seekings.

First up will be in-demand bike corrals along the King Street corridor, replacing a few parking spaces on side streets.

"It likely won't be a ribbon-cutting event, but they'll be popping up," says Michael Maher, executive director of the city's Civic Design Center.

The bigger challenge in the next year will be creating designated bike lanes and routes through the peninsula that are safe for cyclists.

"It's a safety issue. It's a quality of life issue. It's a 21st century issue," Seekings says.

Supporters will also continue advocating for a route across the Ashley River for pedestrians and cyclists. "If you linked West Ashley to downtown, it would be a game changer," Seekings says. The push this year will be creating a detailed plan and locating funding. "You could cross the Ashley using any mode you want," he says.

Prepare for Takeoff

Boeing announced it would be bringing its second Dreamliner facility and at least 3,600 jobs to North Charleston in 2009, providing phenomenal news to South Carolina in the midst of a tough recession.

But, before the plant jobs arrive, you have to build the plant. So 2010 saw a few milestones: announcements of ancillary jobs and benchmarks in the construction process. But 2011 is when the investment begins to pay off.

The facility is expected to have a ribbon cutting in the first part of the year, with operations beginning in July, says Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger. The first planes are expected to fly out in early 2012.

North Charleston has been anxiously anticipating the jobs at the plant, but the entire region has been positioning for other jobs from suppliers, possibly more than doubling those at the Boeing site.

Last week, German parts maker Dannecker Fine-Tec announced it was looking for a $3 million plant in the Charleston area. The region is starting to see suppliers like Dannecker arrive, and residents can expect more to come in the new year, says Mary Graham, senior vice president for public policy and regional advancement at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Boeing and other local success are coming to fruition, with local businesses hoping the rising tide will raise all ships coming out of a rough few years. "Because of Boeing and the wind turbine facility and the turnaround at the port, we're well positioned," Graham says.

Civil Memorial?

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War will likely be recognized with events throughout the continental U.S. Like the war itself, it will all begin in Charleston.

At this point in 1861, South Carolina had already voted to secede from the union. Events recognizing that early milestone in the run-up to the war revealed that tensions are still high between those who remember the Confederacy with reverence and those who remember it with shame.

In a ceremony unveiling a historic marker at the site of the secession vote, when Charleston Mayor Joe Riley referred to the secession as an effort to protect slavery, an audience member yelled out, "You're a liar!"

A secession gala later that evening was referred to as a celebration by organizers, leading local black leaders to protest outside the event, proving the issue continues to divide the community.

This weekend, Citadel cadets and staff members will re-enact the firing on the Star of the West (see City Pick, p. 21).

Events are being organized between the city, the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust, and the National Park Service.

Programs will have an eye on diversity, hoping to represent a variety of experiences from Charleston in the Civil War era, says Michael Allen with the National Park Service.

"We realize that everyone who comes here may not want to see a cannon," he says.

The bulk of commemoration will come in around the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter in early April. The city is expecting 250,000 people to attend downtown events, including a candlelight concert in the early morning hours of April 12 — when the first shots were fired 150 years ago.

Calling the sesquicentennial a "four-year journey," Allen notes there will be more to come, commemorating Robert Smalls escape in 2012 and the 54th regiment's assault on Fort Wagner in 2013.

Organizers have invited President Barack Obama to take part in the events.

Train Trouble

The housing crisis and recession put a big wrench in the redevelopment of the former Navy Yard. But it hasn't stopped North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey's big dreams for the largely barren property. Until now.

Summey has agreements with the State Ports Authority, private developers, and rail line CSX to keep train traffic off most of the Navy Yard to protect the site for new shops, offices, and homes. But the limited access threatened the Department of Commerce and Norfolk Southern, who are supporting a shared rail facility running right over Summey's vision.

State plans would send most of the regional rail traffic through the site, leaving the property largely to industrial development with little opportunity for the kind of growth Summey and other city leaders had envisioned.

The Commerce Department has told the city it will purchase the three parcels needed or the state will condemn them. Summey has promised to fight the Commerce Department plans in court, and he's got some support in Columbia, including state Sen. Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston), who introduced legislation to preserve the city's right to determine how its land is developed.


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