The State Ports Authority unveiled plans for a $35 million renovation of Union Pier Monday, addressing some neighborhood concerns while brushing off a lawsuit against the planned cruise ship terminal's primary customer.
A group of neighborhood associations, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Charleston Preservation Society have filed a suit against Carnival Cruise Lines, alleging the cruise ships will be violating zoning laws, creating a nuisance in nearby residential areas, and polluting Charleston coastal waters. The lawsuit came after community members had lobbied unsuccessfully to have the passenger area relocated farther north to the Columbus Street terminal.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley, speaking at the meeting Monday, called the lawsuit "outrageous" and "abusive;" SCSPA President Jim Newsome called it "without merit." Attorney Blan Holman, who was not at the meeting, said later in the day that he would leave it to the courts to decide whether the lawsuit he filed had merit.
"Everyone has kind of taken the position that the city doesn't have any authority over this," Holman says. "My clients believe the city does have the authority to have reasonable standards for cruise ships, just like the city has reasonable standards for horse-drawn carriages, pedicabs, walking tours, and every other kind of tourist operation here."
The unveiling of the plans took place in Charleston's current passenger terminal, a largely unadorned warehouse at 176 Concord St. that Newsome called "antiquated."
"Take a look around," Newsome said. "Are you proud of this? Is this the warm welcome our community should send?"
Under the latest version of the plans, the Ports Authority will remove more than 5,000 feet of chain link fence, revamp the landscaping, and take design cues from traditional and contemporary Charleston architecture. The new blueprint is also touted as improving traffic flow, addressing concerns that tourist traffic would continue to throw a wrench in traffic patterns on Concord Street.
Newsome said the Ports Authority would resubmit the plans to the Board of Architectural Review, begin construction late this year, and complete the renovations by early 2013.