Tonight's community forum on the Union Pier redevelopment is shaping up to be a lot more confrontational than the kickoff event the State Ports Authority has planned for Tuesday.
The Ports Authority has relocated most of the rest of its operations away from the peninsula's Union Pier Terminal. The only building that is expected to remain will be a renovated facility for cruise ship operations. That would leave more than 30 acres open for redevelopment along the Cooper River.
Downtown neighborhoods and business owners have grown frustrated with the cruise business, with some worried about the increased traffic on their streets and others concerned about a lack of local cruise ship standards. City Hall and Mayor Joe Riley have been largely guiet on the issue of regulating the cruise industry and unflinchingly supportive of the authority's Union Pier redesign plans.
Last month, the Ports Authority announced plans for a kickoff meeting to discuss the new cruise terminal's design. The meeting will be at noon Tuesday at the cruise passenger terminal, 196 Concord Street.
In response, the Historic Charleston Foundation has scheduled a community forum at 7 p.m. tonight at the College of Charleston's Physicians Memorial Auditorium, 66 George St. The forum is meant to provide a question and answer opportunity with the mayor, Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome, and Union Pier design team members. The panel will also include urban planning and sustainability experts.
Apparently worried about a combative crowd, the Ports Authority has scheduled a pro-cruise ship rally at 5:30 p.m. in front of the auditorium. In a message to supporters, Newsome said the group will "walk together into the Physicians Auditorium."
Considering the high-profile criticism that has come out recently, the Ports Authority has good reason to try to rally its base. A story last month in The New York Times showed even the usually agreeable hospitality industry has its doubters, including Steven Dopp, the president of the Portwood Properties Corporation, the principal owner of the Francis Marion Hotel.
"The prescription for a high-quality destination does not include being overrun with cruise ships," he told the paper. "The scale of the ships and the number of people dumped on the street — it's not what Charleston was or wants to be."
And, in an opinion piece in the Post and Courier, local chef Sean Brock called for the city to do what other coastal communities have done and codify cruise ship standards. The letter was also signed by several high-profile names in Charleston's hospitality industry, including Hank Holliday, the local hotelier and restaurateur who has worked closely with Mayor Riley to redevelop the City Market.
"Implementing reasonable limitations on the cruise industry does not impede or jeopardize any of the other hard-working people of our city," Brock wrote. "To the contrary, everyone can agree that holding all businesses to a high standard benefits the entire community."